The end of .com, the beginning of .yourbrand

September 29, 2009

Joe White-Joe White is chief operating officer at Gandi, an Internet domain name registration firm. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Despite the importance of domain names for companies and the extraordinary amount of money many have paid for them, the vast majority of businesses are unprepared for imminent changes to the Internet.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the international body that oversees the structure of the internet, is liberalising the market for domain name extensions – the .com or .net part of a web address – from the beginning of 2010. This means that anyone, in theory, can apply to operate an extension. So alongside .com, .net, and .org, we will see .whateveryoulike.

Historically, companies have considered their domain to be a critical part of their brand identity. Some domains have been sold for millions of dollars – sex.com was reportedly sold for $14 million – and multinational companies often register up to 20,000 different variations of their brand to try and stop opportunists exploiting it.  However, despite this historic investment and interest, the vast majority (two thirds) of businesses are unprepared for imminent changes, according to some research we did a little while ago in conjunction with the Future Laboratory.

This is interesting given that there are real opportunities for companies. It will mean companies can readdress the way they communicate with customers, partners, or investors. We’ve already seen a shift in consumer behaviour where the high-street and virtual world have blended. The growth in blogging and social networking means people have also shifted their identity online. The liberalisation of top level domain names will help to blend the activities of both businesses and consumers with the potential to create a personalised brand experience.

Toyota, for example, could create the .toyota domain and register europe.toyota and usa.toyota, and set up sites for individual brands (highlander.toyota) and use targeted domains for different markets such as customers and suppliers (suppliers.toyota, dealers.toyota, buying.toyota). Or, Nike could create a personalised brand experience using yourname.nike, with training programmes, suggested products, networking pages which could link with sponsored athletes and so on. In addition, some companies could do one-off marketing campaigns or initiatives to support individual product launches. For example, Tastyhamburgersandhealthysalads.mcdonalds or Doveforrealwomen.unilever.

Indicators suggest that consumers will embrace this change. As part of the same research, we interviewed 1,000 consumers and one in five (19 per cent) said an extension such as .nike or .microsoft would be memorable. Considering only 24 per cent think .com is memorable, this shows the future potential for branded top-level domains.

However, while liberalisation of domain names is exciting, there are concerns over regulation. Some companies, such as Microsoft, have called for a staged roll-out, rather than full liberalisation, to ensure potential problems can be dealt with.

For example, should .apple be given to Apple the company, or to an apple growing co-operative in Wisconsin? What about top level domain names which play on morality or religion? The Vatican has already registered its concern with ICANN that making .god available could lead to serious, and potentially violent, dispute.

At the moment, ICANN is still developing the processes for dealing with issues such as this. It created an Implementation Recommendation Team (IRT) to look at concerns expressed about trademark protection. The team’s proposals are currently out for public comment before being incorporated into the process for liberalisation. ICANN is expected to start taking applications for new top-level domains between January and March 2010, and it anticipates between 300-500 to begin with.

For us, this is an exciting change. But if liberalisation is to bring the benefits it promises, it needs to be handled carefully. The opportunities are diverse for different types of businesses, and so long as concerns are carefully managed, we think this is a major shift in the internet that companies cannot ignore.

Comments

Interesting and promising.

 

Well I think it would go a long way to resolving the issues of us running out of domain names anytime soon as well as protecting users from phishing websites. One thing that will need to be done is to price these new domain extensions so that people can register these instead of just large corporations.

76% of people can’t remember .com? That’s sad.

Posted by Orgizmo | Report as abusive
 

ICANN is nuts.
It just needs to stop. One major problem with the internet is all the stupid extentions like.tv, .biz, ……whatever!!!…

it just leads to more and more confusion.
“.whatever” wont lead to massive rewrites and buys. Branding companies already know this… of course 1 or two may buy in.. but it will turn more consumers off than it will turn on. Good luck. idiots.

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive
 

I think the idea of .yourbrand is not a great idea. What is wrong with the current naming conventions (.org, .edu, .gov, .com, etc) which clearly define the domains and are self explanatory? I am perfectly fine with the way things are since my friend “Google” is always there to help me find what I intended for.

Like the article mentions, there are potential problems if two or more parties fight for the same name. Would .memphis be owned by University of Memphis or the Memphis Grizzlies or the Memphis zoo? In the example below if Apple the company gets the right for .apple and the Wisconsin co-operative does not, is that fair? If say, Apple goes bankrupt then should it be given to Wisconsin co-operative then?

I think there are a lot of open questions that need to be answered before opening up the registration process.

Lastly, but not the least I would miss using the Ctrl-Enter option in the address bar which automatically populates the .com and www if websites do not end in .com ;)

Posted by Swapna | Report as abusive
 

I agree that the domain name extensions are great for users in the US. However, in other countries, they are not adopted, so for example, no university in Germany has an .edu extension and no government institution has a .gov. It is therefore really hard to find the real websites and to be sure, you are really looking at reliable information.

However, I also think that .whatever might not be a good idea, as you will strengthen the large corporations and the small companies will not have a shot at this option for a long time! I also agree with Swapna, who is to decide who will get ownership for this domain extension?

I believe it would create an unnecessary hype and give large conglomerates even more market power!

 

I think the concerns about who gets what are overstated. The examples of .apple and .memphis are the same issues we have now – who gets apple.com or memphis.com? The late comers will have to settle for longer ones like .applecomputers or .memphiszoo

There are always reservations when things change, but once the transition is done, pretty much everyone is happier.

 

so everybody will have a great domain and colourful internet naming, before and after the ‘dot’

 

I think TLDs are liberal enough right now. Websites using .mobi, .biz, .tel, .info, etc. are rarely heard of (in my circles, anyway; I’d be happy to be corrected), and I think TLDs have already become a way of identifying the *kind* of organization that owns the website, not the name of the organization itself. That’s what the second-level domain name (the part before the TLD, like the “google” in “google.com”) is for.

What about this can’t be done with subdomains, or regular URLs? http://usa.toyota.com states very clearly that you’re visiting the USA site of the commercial entity Toyota.

What I’d like to see ICANN do is regulate the price of domain registration with the TLDs we already have, or open up the registering to make it more competitive. For example, there’s only one company you can buy a .pr (Puerto Rico’s country code) domain name from, and they charge an absolutely ridiculous $1000 USD per year. (https://www.nic.pr/fees_popup.asp?langu age=en) And push more for Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs). Yes, you can get spoofed, but that’s happening now anyway, and displaying the URLs in punycode could help ameliorate the problem. I don’t think there would be a huge issue with people not being able to type out the special characters, since most of the new sites I visit are either through clicking a link or a Google search.

 
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