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Do Not Enter, It's .XXX Again

Naseem Javed

There soon will be a central place for Web surfers to dwell in a forbidden cyber land of adult fantasies, sex, dark rituals and total taboos. Finally, ICANN has given in to the pressure and has tossed a big rock across the turbulent e-commerce ocean. It has approved a new suffix, .xxx, for adult-only porn sites, creating ripples and debates in ever so confusing global cyber branding times when cyber global domain name challenges are being fought in the complex earthly trademark realities.

Three things are bound to happen.

Segregation and Polarization – The most profitable sector of the Internet is still adult Web sites. Though XXX offers a great branding opportunity to most adult sites, it still raises some serious questions and it demands some viewing strategies. Most sites will go through a frenzy to secure their already existing names with the new suffix, and also there will be a series of new names ending with .xxx. This suffix has a great appeal for adult content.

Most adult Web sites will use this new suffix while keeping all the other existing suffixes, including .com. This has happened each time a new suffix has been introduced, though it has fizzled down very quickly as the public at large has had no time to figure out the new suffixes, being as it is so overwhelmed with the commonality of the .com suffix.

Blocking and Access – For the first time, adult sites will have a visible and a clearly identifiable component to the very specific nature of the site, unlike .com, which is so general in nature. This would mean various search engines, portals and individuals would be able to sort and select by this suffix, to either allow or block such sites and e-mails.

Monetizing and Marketing – This will bring added revenue and create some sparks for the registrars. The registration will become a money-making process of millions of new registrations, changes, modifications, squatting and legal disputes. The domain management industry will be humming for a while. In the coming days and beyond, once the dust settles down, there will be three key questions:

Enforcement? Is it possible that there will be a requirement by law to move all adult stuff to .xxx? This would require a more serious debate on the definition of what is an adult site, is it for selling guns, discussing philosophy, Alzheimer, sexual diseases, or just raw sex? If it is just raw sex, then why not introduce a new suffix of .sex? The issue of freedom of speech will be right at the center of the discussion, and there is no easy way for this to be legislated. It would become a Pandora's box.

Privacy? The exposure of the .xxx would take away users' privacy as they might be reluctant to be seen with such a highly visible identity. Today most adult sites are nicely camouflaged into name brands like PersianKitty.com or BlueRiver.net, etc. The same names with .xxx will make it too obvious.

Squatters? Squatters and other players might find a moneymaking angle by creating embarrassment and exploiting legitimate business site names by registering them in the .xxx domain. This would be embarrassing to a legitimate business, which would have to explain that it has nothing to do with such a site, such as www.Disney.xxx, www.dell.xxx, www.lg.xxx or www.sony.xxx.

Only properly structured and clearly legit and globally strong trademark holders would be able to protect themselves; the rest with generic business names based on dictionary words, geographic names or general type surnames would have little protection. ICANN has always moved in a very unpredictable manner since inception, and randomly creating additional top level domain (TLD) suffixes doesn't help. Each time a new category is added, it opens a wide debate.

Basically, a clear policy is needed on whether ICANN will open certain TLDs or not and under what situations. It can either work with only current suffixes and close the book, or have a system like the yellow pages. It could introduce suffixes for each industry, like hotels, airlines, libraries, marketing, real estate, doctors, and dentists, employed and unemployed, etc., adding some 5,000 such international categories.

Open to Anyone

Two problems. First, as long as there are no requirements for any proof or identification for a particular business or activity, anybody could use any suffix and simply jump into any category of choice. Second, searching would fail, as there will be no way to know who is whom. Under the present registration set up, this process of identity and control can't be policed.

The cost of registration and domain name management would become a nightmare, as most would like to cover all the bases and have as many registrations in as many different suffixes as possible. The end user would be seriously frustrated to remember if it should type a hospital, doctor or medical suffix to find help.

The above article was originally published in CircleID June 8th 2005, when ICANN had just approved .xxx but this approval was quickly withdrawn due to heavy opposition. Now once again ICANN has approved .xxx and we are back to where it all started.

By Naseem Javed, Expert: Global Naming Complexities, Corporate Nomenclature, Image & Branding. He is the founder of ABC Namebank, author of 'Domination: The GTLD Name Game', syndicated columnist, keynote speaker and specialist on global naming complexities.

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

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