Tomorrow begins one of the greatest disasters in the history of the Internet: the introduction of new top-level domain names, or “strings,” that come at the end of Web addresses.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, which oversees the whole domain-name system, is unveiling all the applications it’s received at a press event in London on June 13.
Paul Sloan at CNET calls it “the greatest landgrab in Internet history.” Everyone from Google to Go Daddy is applying for new strings like “.lol” and “.casa.” Brands like BMW and Canon are angling to secure “.bmw” and “.canon,” which will let them run websites that don’t end in “.com.”
That’s the problem with this whole scheme.
After years of TV and radio ads touting Web addresses, consumers are somewhat familiar with strings like “.com” and “.net.” Those pretty much define Web addresses in the popular imagination.
If you’re a startup-founding hipster in Brooklyn or San Francisco’s Mission District, you might just be a connoisseur of “.me” or “.ly.” But as Bit.ly has found out, those are a bit too precious for most people—the Web-address shortening service had to get the slightly longer “bitly.com” just to be safe.
So now we’re expecting people to understand that, say, “cars.bmw” is some kind of thing you can type into a Web browser and get to BMW’s website?
Good luck with that. All this is going to accomplish is to pour a lot of money into ICANN’s hands—new top-level domains cost as much as $185,000 to start up—and confuse the heck out of consumers.
Marketing chiefs everywhere are going to be in a panic trying to figure out if they need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to register their brand name as a string, just to keep it out of mischief-makers’ hands. Outside of a few global brands, most won’t be able to afford that kind of expense.
Meanwhile, Google, Facebook, and Twitter are going to make out like bandits. Why? Because anything that makes Web addresses even more confusing than they already are drives people to type things into a search box.
Or they head to easy-to-find Web presences like a Facebook page or a Twitter account.
Overstock.com learned this to its dismay when it tried to rebrand as “O.co.” (That’s not one of the new strings—it’s Colombia’s country domain name, used by some companies looking for an alternative to “.com.”)
The online retailer ran a bunch of TV ads touting its rebranding. It even secured naming rights to a sports stadium in Oakland, Calif.
But consumers didn’t get it. They typed in “o.com” or other variations into their browser.
Now Overstock.com has pulled back and is only using “O.co” internationally, where “Overstock” is a less-useful brand name.
If Overstock couldn’t make it happen here with a huge TV push, do you really think marketers are going to be able to make these new names stick?
We leave you with these thoughts from Harper’s about an earlier land grab, the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889:
The development of Oklahoma will in this respect resemble the settlement of Kansas, where it was found that the real settlers were in many instances men with some means, who came to take up the claims of those whom drought and mortgages and hard times had driven to the wall. Hundreds of people who were starved out of Kansas were among the first to enter Oklahoma with the intention of retrieving their scattered fortunes; yet as they went into Oklahoma with no more resources they had carried into central and western Kansas, it is not unlikely that the ultimate result will be the same. Men who have gone into Oklahoma and obtained quarter sections of land on the fertile parts of the river-bottoms, with the intention of pasturing stock on the sandy uplands, which are adapted for nothing better than grazing, stand a fair chance of keeping the mortgage company from the door, as, from present indications, it is not probable that the uplands will be disturbed for many years to come.
Good luck in the uplands, domain settlers.
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