So, what on Earth is to be gained from the latest batch of top level domains as announced by ICANN today? And what sort of minds are hard at work at some of the bidders, who have paid a hefty sum upfront for the likes of “.dad”, “.new” and “.and”? I really, really, don’t want to imagine where they are going with those and others…
Who is really going to benefit from this “opening up” of the domain naming system? Crooks, blackmailers, speculators, lawyers and dodgy “brand consultants” by the looks of it. Please convince me otherwise.
The current domain naming system is not a simple taxonomy of classes: we have the country-specific domains and we have the supposedly generic TLDs of which three are strictly managed (.mil, .gov and .edu) and the other three are basically a free-for-all hotch potch of non-exclusive sets: if “mydomain.com” is taken, try “mydomain.org” or “mydomain.net”.
The country and generic TLDs are not mutually exclusive: indeed, many companies were quick to spot branding opportunities from buying into short, snappy domain names even if they are totally unrelated to the country domain in question (think of abc.tv, bit.ly, or t.co).
So branding is important and there is no shortage of human ingenuity in making the most of what is already available. So why would ICANN want to open this up even further, except for creating a massive market of largely spurious value that is likely to be dominated by speculators and fraudsters? The problem is, that once called into existence, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle – and it is too late to wimper about the law of unforeseen consequences.
Let’s take a (hopefully) theoretical example of a a new top level domain of “.clothing”. A number of activities were emerge in parallel:
- Crooks: those out deliberately to deceive you, will snap up a domain name of a brand you are familiar with (and before the “genuine” brand owner cottons on) in the hope of fooling you to visit them and part with your money;
- Blackmailers: we are too diplomatic to call them that but I refer to the more quaintly named “cybersquatters”, who will register a name and then wait for you pay them to hand over the name or offer it for sale to the highest bidder, who might well be in the previous category;
- Speculators: variants of the above who claim to have a clean conscience and are just “playing the market”;
- Lawyers: everywhere advising you to register a slew of names and variants of your official brand name, in order to protect your brand; and offering – for a fee of course – to try to wrest your name out of the hands of those who may have gotten hold of a useful name through one of the forementioned methods; and my favourite….
- Brand Consultants: cool dudes trying to convince you that “mycompany.clothing” really, really, is a great brand idea…
Once the full list is operational and we know the new domain owners’ motives will we see whether they are simply defensive bids to protect a brand – such as .google – or intend – as we saw with the .eu domain launch, a massive new market of opportunities, rackets, misunderstandings, deception or downright fraud.
Thanks ICANN, this is what we really, really, needed…