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ICANN - domain name extension liberalisation: who benefits?

Some of you may have seen earlier in the year that ICANN (the body in charge of regulating the domain name space) announced that it was going to liberalise the market for domain name extensions, e.g. the bit that follows the last '.' in a name, .com, .net., .co.uk, .eu, etc.

What this means is that in theory anyone can apply to become a registry in their own right, and get .theirname so that you can buy domain names from them and get yourname.theirname. ICANN have now announced that the 'evaluation' process for new extensions will be costly, $185,000. Well costly for you and me, but perhaps not for funds or speculators.

But what is point in all this? Does it matter? Should we care?

The justification for doing it is that the internet is growing, more people are coming online, it allows more choice, blah, blah, blah. Which has some truth to it. But in some ways there is already an infinite number of domain names available across each of the roughly 280 existing TLDs (from .ac -> .zw - there should be a catchy alphabet song for them!).

But what does it mean for you, the customer? Well, it does mean you can get more choice. You will be able to buy yourdomain.something. Whether this helps is a different matter. Many of these new extensions will be quite specific, which may help, e.g. myplace.restaurant, or myhouse.london, but it may just create more and more confusion that your chosen name can have so many different extensions, which one is really you?

One result of this will probably be that more and more people will want to authenticate that their domain name, whatever unusual form it takes, can be explicitly linked to them. The most common way to do this at the moment it through SSL certificates, where a third party will guarantee that the domain is owned by a particular individual/company, and that you are browsing on that site in a secure way. So this is something to think about and watch out for...

There is one group of people that will undoubtedly benefit from this liberalisation and that is the spammers, advertisers and squatters.

In the old days if you wanted to protect your brand you could buy all 280 extensions. No longer. With a potentially limitless number of extensions, there is no way that you can get yourbrand.allofthem, so even the most well protected global brands may find a few more lawsuits on the horizon. The beneficiaries of this will be the squatters and advertisers who will use establishedbrand.newtld as an advertising site, or domain auction target (buy this one back, for $xxx).

And then there will be the increased volume of ad sites, just showing endless streams of ad feeds on domain names with no real purpose except to make money for their owner. I always think about this in terms of domain names as property: if the best properties in your town (domains on your tld) were closed down and became advertising bill boards, would you stand for this as a resident? This is exactly what is happening online. Most of the best names/words are turning into bill boards, and it will only continue unless there is a regulatory change to stop or limit it.

So there you have it, the change is coming, the benefits are unclear. But one thing that is clear is that unless ICANN take more of a role in setting and enforcing codes of content for domain ownership/usage, we may find as customers we are browsing in a larger and more polluted domain space.

What do you think?