Time for a new domain name: dot-stupid

It seems that the Internet is finally going to get some new top-level domains. It is going to expand beyond dot-com, dot-net, dot-org and the few other now-familiar extensions with two new ones: dot-biz and dot-info.

It seems that the Internet is finally going to get some new top-level domains. It is going to expand beyond dot-com, dot-net, dot-org and the few other now-familiar extensions with two new ones: dot-biz and dot-info.

Unfortunately, this is a horrible idea for just about everyone. It's just dot-stupid.

Recently, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization that controls domain names, said it has finished arranging the formal accreditation agreements with the companies that will operate the registries for the new dot-biz and dot-info top-level domains (TLDs).

Vint Cerf, one of the "fathers" of the Internet and ICANN's current chairman, calls the introduction of new top-level domains "a momentous step forward in the continuing evolution of the Internet's domain name system." Cerf said the new TLDs will provide consumers new choices and that we'll all benefit from greater competition.

After an initial screening process for companies or individuals to submit claims on their intellectual property--for example, I'm sure The Coca-Cola Company would want to secure coke.biz, coke.info, cocacola.biz and cocacola.info, among many others--the new domains are scheduled to open to public registration later this summer. And then the fun is supposed to begin.

But who is really going to benefit from this? I think we need new TLDs like we need new holes in our heads. The new TLDs are only going to increase users' confusion, not increase their "choices". And the move will also cause needless headaches and expenses for many Internet businesses that will now have to register their companies' names in multiple TLDs with multiple registrars.

The only people who will benefit are the companies maintaining the new TLD databases and charging businesses and users to register names in them. The first two of the "accredited" domain registry companies, NeuLevel--which will run dot-biz--and Afilias--which has dot-info--stand to make millions of dollars off this expansion of the domain name space.

ICANN argues that new TLDs will provide greater choice. Whereas VeriSign (which operates the Network Solutions registry) has had a sanctioned monopoly in dot-com, dot-net and dot-org, the new TLD registries, ICANN said, will provide healthy market competition--providing better service and prices for everyone.

I don't buy it. Registering a domain name isn't like shopping for any other sort of service provider. Would we expect anyone to take their business to dot-info, for example, if they don't like the service they're getting over at dot-com? That's a pretty simplistic view. After investing millions of dollars promoting a specific URL--say, Amazon.com--would it behoove Jeff Bezos to suddenly rename his company Amazon.biz?

The other case for introducing new TLDs comes from the complaint, "All the good names are already taken in dot-com!" The argument is that short, easy-to-remember domain names are in short supply today. Books.biz, for example, as a generic name would be open for anyone to register. (Books.com is owned by Barnesandnoble.com.)

This is not an unreasonable argument. But I think in the long run, it will result only in confusion, and it will make domain names ultimately HARDER to remember--making them much less useful as marketing tools. So wait, was that site Books.info? Or Books.biz? Or perhaps Books.stuff, Books.web or Books.firm? As TLDs increase, so will people's puzzlement. In short, this is going to make the Internet even less user-friendly.

ICANN does deserve credit for considering the rights of trademark holders in its decision to expand the TLD namespace by requiring the registries to undergo "sunrise" periods for trademark owners to protect their interests.

But the best thing to do would have been to not introduce new TLDs at all. Now, it looks like it's too late, so I guess we'll have to live with dot-biz, dot-info and the myriad other silly TLDs ICANN will undoubtedly introduce in the months ahead.

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