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Nothing But Net/Mark McFadden: It's All in the Name

What’s in a name? On the Internet, potentially millions, of course. Companies have paid enormous sums of money for the privilege of having an easily identifiable name like www.business.com or www.internet.com. In fact, some firms buy up the names of their competitors so their adversaries can’t use simple brand names to identify their Web or e-commerce sites.

A move is afoot to change the number of top-level domain names on the Internet. The current generic top-level domain names include the familiar .COM, .ORG, and .NET as well as the less familiar .EDU, .GOV (for the US federal government), and the rare .MIL (for the military) and .INT (for international treaty organizations). Several organizations have proposed to add new top-level domain names to permit more people to register their names as domains.

The one organization that matters is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – more often known by its "can do" acronym, ICANN. ICANN is the technical coordination body that controls whether or not new top-level domain names appear in the Internet. Names like .FIRM or .WEB have been proposed – but will they really help?

Presumably the goal of new top-level domains is to provide room for a variety of companies and organizations to register their domain names. As an example consider the domain name www.prince.com: is it the Prince of Wales Charitable trust fund Web site? The fan club for the artist formerly known as Prince? The Web site for a tennis and squash racquet manufacturing company? The home to a small consulting firm in London? On today’s Internet, only one company can register that domain and that limitation is the source of confusion for many visitors and irritation for many companies.

As the www.prince.com example illustrates, the Domain Name System (DNS) can never be an index to the Internet’s content. The registration of famous names in the DNS is a process that generally favors large companies protecting intellectual property and trademark rights. Even if the DNS was expanded with new top-level domains, who would prevent the existing trademark holders from simply registering in any (or all!) new top-level domains – effectively sabotaging the effort in the first place.

One option being discussed is "chartered" top-level domains. The chartered domains would have names like ".AUTO" or ".AIRLINE" and registration would be limited to companies and organizations in those industries. Consumer clarity might be improved by having www.united.airline rather than www.united.com but without an enormous number of new names -- representing the variety of industries in business -- such a plan is doomed to be ineffective.

Later this year you can expect ICANN to approve a trial of a few new top-level domains to supplement the ones that already exist. They may even approve a combination of generic top-level domains and "chartered" domains.

No matter. Adding six to ten new top level domains won’t damage the existing DNS and it won’t change the fundamental problem: the DNS is not an index to content and can’t make it easier for customers and visitors to find what they need. Simply adding new domain names won’t change the DNS status quo. --Mark McFadden is a consultant and is communications director for the Commercial Internet eXchange (Washington). Contact him at mcfadden@cix.org.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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