With The Creation of Custom Domain Names, Is .Com Dead?

As a new range of domain names are slated to appear in the next couple of years, the web is about to change. But does this also mean that it will get easier to surf the Internet, that .com addresses will disappear and Google will quietly fade away?

The International Committee of Assigned Network Names, or ICANN, is set to approve custom global Top Level Domain names–known as gLTDs–which will allow big organisations to buy their own domain names.

This idea was first announced in 2008 and was expected to be in place by the end of 2009, but the Internet bureaucracy is not known for quick decision-making–the plan is still awaiting enactment.

Once this policy is in place, organisations can register their own domain and not have to bother with .com or other URL ending.

For example, Microsoft could ditch the Microsoft.com domain and move the .microsoft address with websites named support.microsoft and shop.microsoft.

The cost of one of these global Top Level Domains will be $178,000–and given the $25,000 annual fees, only going the largest organisations and corporations will be able to afford them.

Even then, we’ll see many businesses not bother. Given the that current proposal includes strong provisions against cyber squatting, there’s no need for trademark holders to rush, and it’s likely that many will sit out the hype and wait for the prices to drop.

Where these domains will work well, though, is for internal networks and secure applications where system administrators can lock out unauthorised devices from their domains.

Excluding search engine robots will provide a certain level of security, along with some opportunities for corporate mischief similar to what we’re currently seeing between Google and Facebook.

The potential for misbehavior by owners of these domains will be a barrier for small businesses. Few businesses or groups are going to trust their online properties to a .Facebook, .ibm or .apple address when they can own a domain with the current registrars.

There’s an application that is using the .music domain and selling space to performers. That’s nice, but it locks them into the same risks they currently have with Facebook and MySpace–at the first sign of controversy, their account will be shut down for allegedly breaching some obscure term of service.

A major problem for ICANN is going to be place names. How do you decide between Birmingham, England or Birmingham, Ala., when the .Birmingham name comes into play?

Better still, the argument between the city of Victoria, British Columbia and the state of Victoria, Australia.

Even more delightful is the question of who really owns a place name. It’s almost guaranteed that there will be fights over which level of government, state or city, actually owns a place name–like Athens, Ga. and Athens, Greece.

The corporate sector has similar problems with similar trading names being used in different jurisdictions, even when the two are completely unrelated–Woolworth’s retail chains in Australia and the UK is one that comes to mind.

While it’s clear that many of the domain registrars think these new names are going to be a nice little cash cow, it’s not difficult to see that they may have misunderstood just how complex and fraught some of the registrations will turn out to be.

Most of the registrations, though, will be straight forward and won’t kill search engines. The further fragmentation of the net into even more domains is going to make services like Google and Yahoo more important, as web surfers will find it harder to guess or remember websites.

On balance, it’s unlikely that the new top level domains are going to put the search engines out of business or see .com addresses we’ve grown used to disappear.

What we are seeing is the evolution of the web. Search engines will adapt, and the addresses we use will develop as technology changes.

It is quite possible that eventually we’ll have our own personal top level domains should we want them, and  when the price drops to the levels we’ve become used to with .com addresses.

This won’t happen overnight, and it’s a long way off if ICANN and their members keep prices high. For now, .coms are going nowhere.