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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

Who Are the Winners and Losers under ICANN's New Web Site Naming Rules?

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Internet,Web,domainDomain name registries and marketers can rejoice now that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has given its blessing to a plan encouraging the use of much more creative Web addresses. On Monday ICANN's Board of Directors voted to increase the number of Internet domain-name endings—called generic top-level domains (gTLDs)—from the seemingly ubiquitous .com, .net, .org and 19 other suffixes that most Web users have come to know over the past two decades.


Under this new approach—which the ICANN favored by a vote of 13 to one (with two abstentions)—Internet address names will be able to end with almost any word in any language. For example, Scientific American would be able to add Internet addresses using such gTLDs as .ScientificAmerican or .Americanscience, to direct readers to different offerings. Caveat: I am not privy to any plans that Scientific American might have to acquire new gTLDs.


In fact, it's unclear why Scientific American or any other Web site owner would want to pay the $185,000 that may be required to mint each new Web address (plus the $25,000 annually to maintain them), other than to protect its brand identity. If some other entity were to secure the rights to .ScientificAmerican, it might confuse readers looking for the publication's actual site. Not to mention the infinite combination of words (in multiple languages) that would need to be snatched up to likewise avoid confusion—say, .ScienceAmerican, .ScientificAmericanNews, et cetera, with one's imagination being the only limitation.


It's not likely that an individual or small business would invest the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to sow confusion around someone else's Web site, and trademark owners would be allowed to claim their names for use in addresses during an initial period following the rollout. Still, the cybersquatting and so-called "namejacking" so common in the early days of the Web could return. Such cybersquatting involves someone registering Web site addresses containing trademarked words and names so they can be sold at a profit to the rightful owners of those trademarks and names. In one high-profile case, entertainer Madonna eventually won a cybersquatting case in 2000 against then-owner of Madonna.com Dan Parisi, who was found to have registered the domain name in bad faith (he used it as a porn site).


Domain name registrars—the largest being Go Daddy—stand to gain the most from ICANN's decision as wallets are opened to buy up new gTLDs. Marketers will also have a field day as Web site owners spend money to get the word out about their new Web addresses, although it's unclear how much additional traffic these more creative gTLDs will drive to their sites. "Bottom line—the new names will almost certainly mean nothing special to search engines," SearchEngineLand.com reported Monday. "Search engines like Google and Bing give no particular credit or boost to generic top level domain names in general."


Image courtesy of Dirk Ercken, via iStockPhoto.com

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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