Master Of Your Domain

30 03 2011

Ever since the opening of the internet to corporate and personal identities way back in the early-90s, there has been a gold rush going on. At first, it was simple to names to be found and secured, mostly because the entire lexicon of the English language (along with all brands and company names) was available.

But that quickly changed, with nearly every 6-letter or fewer word from the language being gobbled up by someone. Domains were purchased and held for ransom by cybersquatters (case in point: Amarillo.com was owned by a downstate person, who eventually sold it to the Globe-News for about $14,000). No could imagine in those early years how important domain names would eventually be.

Or how scarce they would become.

While we had .com, .org (generally speaking, for non-profits) and .net (normally for networks, like internet services providers), those names quickly ran out. ICANN (the Internet Corporations for Assigned Names and Numbers) slowly added other TLDs (top-level domains) to help ease the crunch, like .biz and .info, as well as the recent .us. But just try to find an available domain these days. Nearly always it involves a very strange agglomeration of words or phrases, or, more commonly, intentional misspellings.

But now, in a very strange twist, we are sitting on the eve of a new TLD that may very well unleash a new land grab in a flurry of possibly hundreds of TLDs.

And this momentous occasion is the opening of the .xxx domain. Yes, now porn sites will have their own domain. Nothing like truth in advertising (now I just hope that all porn sites migrate away from the dotcoms we so commonly land on accidentally).

You see, ICANN is now about to open the floodgates for countless new TLDs like .brand, .yourcity, etc. In other words, the domain extension will become part of the brand itself. Furthermore, when .brand launches, it will be tightly regulated to ensure there are no cybersquatters scooping up registered trademarks.

Whereas fifteen years ago few could ever envision a day in which domain names would be scarce (kind of like no one foresaw the scarcity of telephone numbers…but that was before everyone had a cell phone), we are now faced with the reality that far more entities want or need their own private online handle. And as new businesses emerge, they, too, will have naming needs.

The biggest downside to all of this is that established brands will still feel the need to run out and buy every single variant on their name, and on every new domain. Too many companies found out the hard way that they needed to scoop up the .org and .net (along with the .com) simply to protect themselves from malicious pranksters and critics. This problem is made all too clear by none other than our very own White House (don’t go there…unless you select whitehouse.gov). How embarrassing to hear from your customers that your company name has been subverted by a porn operator or someone who has an axe to grind.

The other problem with TLD proliferation is that we have been long accustomed to defaulting to the .com. In other words, companies will have to work hard to educate us to not absent-mindedly entering .com, and instead keying in .brand. While fifteen years is by no means a long stretch of time, we are creatures of habit. And our habit is .com.

Still, ICANN is to be credited for finally realizing that we need more options. Just like with phone numbers (if you knew how area codes were originally assigned, you would laugh), there is a finite amount of choices. While the world can handle as many John Smiths as it wants, the internet cannot.

The biggest irony, though, is that it took racy adult entertainment sites getting their own TLD to finally awaken ICANN to this reality.

Ladies and gentlemen, grab your credit card and be ready to pounce on your favorite name(s) as it (they) become available. Because there really is a lot in a name. And we have the entire dictionary as our sandbox. You name it.

Dr “ImWithThe.Brand” Gerlich


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