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Who Needs More TLDs?

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John Levine

ICANN's Sydney meeting has come and gone, with the promised flood of new Top-Level Domains (TLDs) claimed to be ever closer to reality. Does the world need more TLDs? Well, no.

Way back in the mid 1990s, it seemed obvious that Internet users would use the DNS as a directory, particularly once early web browsers started to add .COM to words typed in the address bar. This led to the first Internet land rush, with heavy hitters like Procter and Gamble registering diarrhea.com in 1995.

Everyone wanted to get into .COM, since that was the de-facto directory for the Internet. Network Solutions, the predecessor to VeriSign, had a monopoly on registrations in .COM and that was a problem. Many people thought the solution was to add more TLDs with different monopoly registrars (often themselves.) I believe that I was the first to propose breaking the registration monopoly by splitting registries and registrars in December 1996. One of ICANN's undeniable successes is the competitive registrar market, which (as I predicted) as allowed a wide variety of sales models, and a lot of bundling of low-cost domains with web hosting and other services.

Since 1996 we've learned two things about TLDs: TLDs make a lousy directories, and users don't use the DNS for directories anyway. Several of the new TLDs introduced by ICANN since 2000 were intended to be structured as directories. The .AERO domain reserved two letter domains for airlines and three letter domains for airports, using standard industry codes, which was a clever idea, but not one that interested many airlines or airports. The .MUSEUM domain tried very hard to be a directory, with names organized both by the type of museum (metropolitan.art.museum) and the location (vam.london.museum) but that didn't work either.

A huge change in the Net since the late 1990s is that everyone uses search engines to find what they're looking for, to the extent that many non-technical users don't know the difference between the address and search boxes in their browsers. (Sometimes they'll type a search term into the address box, which keeps domain squatters in business.)

So if TLDs aren't useful as directories, what could they be useful for? We'll address the possibilities tomorrow.

By John Levine, Author, Consultant & Speaker. More blog posts from John Levine can also be read here.

Related topics: Domain Names, ICANN, Internet Governance, Top-Level Domains



New gTLDs can aid navigation & marketing John Berard  –  Jul 02, 2009 8:29 AM PDT

I agree that as search is the dominant way to find anything on the Internet, it may ease the burden on companies seeking a domain name that looks anything like their own.  I mean, if I am looking for Mike's Pizza in Boston, who cares if the domain name is www.MikesPizza.com or www.MikesPizzaontheoldpostroadinBoston.com?  For one, Mike.

Marketing isn't just about being found, it is about encouraging customers to come.  The proliferation of new gTLDs will give Mike and others the chance to promote a name more easily remembered.

It is clear that shorter is better.  Just look at the traffice at name-shortening sites like www.bit.ly.  And, as search algorithms are all about links, relevance and performance, the new gTLDs will even make search more effective, too.

All? or Some? Eric Brunner-Williams  –  Jul 02, 2009 9:28 AM PDT


I'm not interested in the search vs lookup comparison, but in your follow-up would you either distinguish between for-profit models such as .com after the competitive bid that moved the nic from SRI to the remote anticeedent of VGRS, and non-profit models such as .coop and .cat, or explain why from your perspective these are indistinguishable, and therefore unnecessary?

Thanks in advance,

Value is found to the left of the dot John Berard  –  Jul 02, 2009 11:30 AM PDT


Despite the intention and community-only limitations of sponsored TLDs, there has been little time or money spent on making them brands, especially compared to what is spent to promote what exists to the left of the dot.

Whether I am seeking to have groceries delivered to my home or intending to contribute to a local charity that seeks to end hunger, my search begins with food.  An expansion of gTLDs will allow for companies, communities and others to have access to domain names that are more like their own name.

This is why I do not see the expansion of gTLDs as confusing.  Rather than viewing them as "indistinguishable, and therefore unnecessary," I see them as rather helpful.


Wrong John Eric Brunner-Williams  –  Jul 02, 2009 11:46 AM PDT

I was commenting on John Levin's post.

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