Some big news came out for the web biz last week: ICANN will be allowing companies to purchase domain names of any extension they like. So it won’t be too long before we see a bunch of web addresses ending in something like .apple or .microsoft.
Maybe. Sort of.
A major problem with this expansion is that a large number of internet users (at least in America) still haven’t gotten past the idea of there being anything other than .com. I still get comments about running websites from .biz and .info extensions, and the pricing of the TLD market reflects this bias toward .com rather than .net, .org, .info, and .biz.
Personalized TLDs… at a steep price
The other big problem with the announcement was that the price will limit these custom extensions to the richest corporations and larger government bodies.
The initial application fee was announced as $185,000 and the annual fees add thousands to that every year. That alone would drastically reduce the number of customized domain names, but to keep things even scarcer they will be restricting the application period to just 90 days. Unless you’ve got a few hundred grand in cash on short notice, you can just about forget about trying to be an early adopter.
Although there is one business model that might work out for someone who wants to risk a loan on this.. Whoever “owns” a domain extension like .mail might be able to charge a premium to people who want their own name.mail domain. Even still, this is a big stretch and I wouldn’t want to be financially involved in either side of such a venture.
A gimmick and a test?
Someone out there will be trying this out, but it is almost certain that the number of new domains will remain extremely limited for the near future. However, the results of any such investment will be scrutinized by domain traders and registrars of all types.
Ultimately, it is an interesting idea but I don’t think it will work out quite as it has been described. Very few brands will have the cash to sink on something so indulgent, so there probably won’t be a big change in users’ online perceptions & behavior.
The other big problem is that this doesn’t make domain names more available – it quickly breaks off entire TLDs for the use of a single company. Instead of making .apple public and creating sites like Woodchuck.apple or Magners.apple, the Apple company will own all the domains under their TLD by default so no one else could have their own .apple without brokering it through them and “diluting” the branding effect.
Of course, .apple isn’t the only brand that consists of a common word with other connotations. For example, which of the apple cider companies has proprietary rights to .cider other than the first one to bid and apply? How about .cars or .computers? These generic TLDs would probably attract a lot more attention from web developers in general, but if they’re sold off already there is actually a greater amount of scarcity due to fewer future expansion possibilities.
Oh, and a pay check!
Despite the problems and limitations, it looks clear that this should be a quick cash-out for ICANN. However, they do put some risk to their reputation if this doesn’t turn out well (and there are a lot of scenarios that could make this turn out poorly).
If there’s backlash and little interest from corporate sponsors, they can just simply let the registrations expire after a few years and pocket the hefty application fees they’d already collected. So while this will be fun to watch, I don’t think this is the URL revolution it could be – but it might just help lay the foundation for a future one.