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6/27/2008
02:50 PM
Mike Fratto
Mike Fratto
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No One Gets Fired For Registering A Dot-Com

ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which manages the generic Top Level Domain (gTLD), recommended opening the gTLDs to organizations that can afford the registration process and can prove they have the wherewithal to manage a gTLD. Many are predicting Wild West expansion of names and the death of the .com. I predict it will be risky business for domain name owners.

ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which manages the generic Top Level Domain (gTLD), recommended opening the gTLDs to organizations that can afford the registration process and can prove they have the wherewithal to manage a gTLD. Many are predicting Wild West expansion of names and the death of the .com. I predict it will be risky business for domain name owners.The domain name system is a distributed database that is architecturally simple. It's a tree starting at the root, and branching downward. The tree is meant to organize the DNS zones into a logical order. There are 21 gTLDs like dot-com, dot-gov, dot-name, and dot-edu. The idea behind the gTLD is that names would be registered under each gTLD in a sensible fashion. For example, commercial interests would be under dot-com. Personal Web sites would be under dot-name, educational universities under dot-edu. It's the responsibility of the sponsoring organization of a TLD to set the requirements on who can register a domain. For example, Educase sets the rules for the dot-edu domain and Employ Media sets the policy for .jobs. Other gTLDs like dot-com don't really have an explicit policy. It's the generic TLD.

There are 259 ccTLDs (top level domains based on country codes) and 11 of those are experimental internationalized domain names. Similar to the gTLD's, ccTLDs are supposed to indicate the county where the domain is registered or pertaining to, but that isn't a requirement. For example, the country of Tuvalu, which owns the dot-tv domain, lets anyone register with them -- the idea being that dot-tv means some kind of television or media domain.

It's a system that works and is familiar, but that isn't without its problems. The explosion of the Internet in the last 15 years has brought thousands of companies large and small online. Each one requires a unique domain name and, as a result, the number of available and meaningful names is shrinking. Problems such as typo squatting, where well-known brand names are misspelled to redirect alphabetically challenged users to the domain owners site, and phishing attempts using variations of authentic or official sounding names are bad enough, but domain name speculating, where speculators register names in the hopes of reselling them name, have exacerbated the shortage of available domain names.

By opening the gTLDs, ICANN hopes to broaden the name space. The intent is that new gTLDs will be community based. For example, dot-cat is a gTLD reserved for domains that relate to the Catalan language and culture. A Google search of the dot-cat gTLD results in little over 9 million hits. Not bad for a gTLD less than two years old. It's possible, with the opening of the TLD's, that DNS will become an organizing entity for domains and sites.

Of course, you can bet businesses will want to get in on the game. I won't speculate on potential companies, but as an example we will use the company called Example. If Example was a global company and wanted to have localized Web sites, they would have to register with each ccTLD in each country where they wanted to have a local presence. That's a lot of domains to register and a lot of names to manage. Better would be to own the .example TLD, and then create all the names under example that you want, such as us.example, unitedstates.example, texas.us.example, uk.example, or brazil.example. Of course, you would have to tell users about your shiny new TLD and get them to use it, but if you can afford your own TLD, you can afford the marketing budget.

So What Is The Risk?

There are a number of risks. Some were articulated during a discussion at the ICANN meeting in Paris.

What happens if I register a name under dot-example and the company that manages that gTLD fails. No one will be able to resolve names under that domain. My company, and any other organization also under dot-example, is effectively kicked off the Internet. One way to circumvent that potential problem is to register a number of multiple domains. Even so, the users that get used to using one gTLD may not find my site again. While ICANN is going to take steps to ensure that organizations that wish to create new gTLDs can actually maintain them, it's still a potential problem that was dismissed by some participants at the meeting as the risk of doing business.

Of course, if you have a trademark and you want to protect and promote it, if you can't afford to register your own gTLD, expect to spend a lot of money registering your trademark name under a lot more gTLD's and fighting trademark abuse. If you do register your own gTLD, expect to spend big money fighting abuse of your trademark. Big, well-known brands like Cisco, Verizon, Apple, etc., should have trademark protection if the gTLD's are run responsibly. For instance, the owner of the dot-example gTLD should only let Cisco Systems register cisco.example -- unless, of course, the person trying to register cisco.example is from Cisco, Texas, or from the Construction Service Industry Corp. (www.cisco.org). It seems to me that trademark cases are going to keep lawyers very busy around the world.

I rather think that instead of new gTLDs being the hot kid on the block, we will be hearing more about how no one ever got fired for registering a dot-com.

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