Do we really need new domain names?

Late last month the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) took the radical step of approving nine new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs): .bike, .clothing, .guru, .camera, .lighting, .voyage, .holdings,  .equipment and .singles.  These gTLDs, while available to registered companies with the appropriate trade marks, will only be released to the public in January 2014.These are part of a list of over 1400 gTLDs that will be released by ICANN in the next few years at a rate of about 10 new names every week.

Domain names were conceived in the early ARPANET days as an abstraction over computers’ numerical addresses that were difficult to remember. There are two types of Top Level Domain names (TLDs): country code TLDS (ccTLDS) such as .zw which is managed by POTRAZ and generic TLDs such as .com. Whilst a lot has changed since the days of the early ARPANET the hallmark of a good domain name has not-it should be easy to remember and provide a hint on the type of website that it points too.

Consequently people should rightly expect that a .info domain would be used to host websites that provide information on certain topics, that a .co.uk domain would be used by UK companies and an .aero domain would be somehow affiliated with air-planes. The truth however is more complex: there are a lot of e-commerce sites that use the .info domain and a lot of websites out there which use the .co.uk domain that are nowhere near the UK. Trying to make sense of this is trying to map the branches of a vine.

One of the excuses that is proffered for this is that often times people are unable to get a domain of their choice under a certain TLD because it is already taken. The alternatives would be to take a less aesthetic domain name or to use another TLD. This has resulted in a somewhat haphazard system of issuing domain names which sometimes reveal little about the website, its intentions and country of origin. Some TLDs are even used with the intention to deceive for example some .org domains have been used by unscrupulous businesses in a bid to fool gullible surfers into believing there are Non Profits. Entities such as The Pirate Bay have hopped serially from TLD to TLD in a bid to change their Domicile and escape prosecution.

One of the arguments put forward for the  new gTLDs is that they make marketing easier, I am guessing because they allow more people to register domains of their choice and provide an opportunity for the person registering the business to state the nature of their business right there in the name. If you sell bikes you would just register a company.bike name and people could tell the nature of your business at a glance. I fear however that this also gives scammers a new tool to scam people. Due to lack of stringent requirements to ensure that the person applying for the domain is actually in the stated business; it would be very difficult for the customer to verify whether the business involved is actually in the stated business.

Most large businesses have habitually bought off their domain names under different TLDs in a bid to prevent phising scams. For example domains such as google.pro, google.biz and google.info all belong to Google. If you enter them in your browser they will all redirect you to your country’s Google search page much in the same way that Google.com does. With the proliferation of the new gTLDs this would become increasingly difficult and the impressionable amongst us will be tempted to click on google.guru links believing there were actually from Google and perhaps lose money in the process. It would be somewhat unwieldy and expensive for these companies to buy their domain under over 2000 TLDs.

Whilst it would be notably easier and convenient for companies to use the new TLDs I think there are more of a complication in some aspects. It already looks like a wild west out there and adding an additional 2000 TLDs might just complicate things. Instead of making life easier on customers the new names are just as likely to confuse them. The new names kind of remind me of the file extensions in windows. For a long time they were limited to three letters then that changed but things did not change that much really. Everybody knows you can use more than three letters (for example .java) but not many do that.

Frankly I do not see the pressing need for new domains at the moment especially Latin ones. It is not like we are running out of domain names the same way we  are running out of IP addresses. I fear that there can be only two possible outcomes from this: Confusion or a la IPV6 outcome where no one is in a hurry to use them except the enthusiastic few. Or I could just be wrong and the whole move will be wildly popular and succeed in confusing internet users.

At least from a Zimbabwean view I do not see how a .hotel domain will help us. Which would be better rainbowtowers.hotel or rainbowtowers.co.zw? The first one does not even tell you where the hotel is: just a hotel. Perhaps users in other countries were there are more businesses and large populations might find the value. So what do you think? Do we need new TLDs or not?

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