What's Wrong with the New TLDs?
Date: Friday December 06 2002, @05:42AM
Topic: New gTLDs

dtobias writes "A large portion of the comments in this site lately pretty much boil down to "The new TLDs suck!" They are mostly anonymous, and mostly refrain from getting into great detail on the specifics of why the new TLDs are bad. Sniping and whining don't accomplish anything particularly constructive, but the topic of whether the new TLDs are, or ought to be, successes or failures, useful or useless, sensible or senseless, good or evil, is one which is worthy of discussion on a loftier plane than "They Suck" or "They Rule"."

So, what are the reasons why people might call the new TLDs failures, or a bad idea, or useless; and do they hold water?

  1. They Look / Sound Stupid. An easy, though superficial, conclusion to reach. The new batch of TLDs give plenty of opportunity for potshots. .name? That's silly... aren't they all names? .biz... too slangy for serious business. .coop? Can you keep chickens in it? .aero... how do you spell that again? Only .info seems mostly immune to this, as it seems to make intuitive sense as a source of information.

    But, then, didn't .com look silly when you first encountered it? How about .org -- is that about orgies? All of the parts of the Internet naming system took some getting used to at first, as is true of anything else. (Parisians originally regarded the Eiffel Tower as an eyesore, and critics called the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington an ugly scar on the Mall; both are now admired attractions of their respective cities.) Any TLD can sound stupid when first seen, but can seem perfectly normal once it's a well established part of the Internet landscape. If enough people adopt it, jane.smith.name will seem as sensible and unremarkable an Internet address for a person as bigcorp.com is for a company.

  2. Some of Them are Third or Higher Level. In other words, in some new TLDs, you can't register something with less than two dots in it (not counting the www. that often, but not always, precedes Web addresses). .name is one, with a first.last.name format. .museum has a taxonomy that puts names at third or higher levels depending on the situation. .pro (if it ever gets off the ground) uses third-level names under categories like med.pro and law.pro. Some of the other TLDs have some categories of registrants that need to register at the third level while others can get second level names (.aero lets individual pilots and crew members get third-level names, while aviation-related companies can register at the second level).

    To the critics, any TLD that makes some or all registrants go anywhere past the second level is fatally flawed; the extra dot makes the domain low-class... not really a real domain name at all. But why should this be the case? British companies have done fine with third level domains in .co.uk, after all. The DNS was intended from the start as a hierarchical, structured system; the conception that everything ought to fit into a flat namespace is one that deserves to be punctured. The introduction of new TLDs that make more use of this structure is hence a good thing in my view.

    It is, of course, possible to take structure too far and end up with unwieldy names. The old pre-Neustar structure of .us tended that way, with most registrants forced to use yourname.yourcity.state.us names that could be quite lengthy and had to be changed if you moved. Some of the names in .museum can go to extremes too, like texasmemorialmuseumofscienceandhistory.naturalhistory.austin.museum. But nobody forced them to go that far... in fact, that particular museum did register some much shorter names too. And some rather unwieldy names are in use in .com as well... the presence of extra dots is not necessary to make an overly long name; lots of letters, numbers, and hyphens can do fine. The refusal of some companies and organizations to adopt logical subdomain naming structures for related entities sometimes leads to messy bunches of long and inconsistent names... but there's only one dot in each of them, so I guess they're all right.

  3. Nobody's using the new TLDs, so they're failures. Well, they certainly haven't caught on to the extent of the overly optimistic projections of the prospective registries at the time of their original applications, or the breathless hype of their press releases. But are they really complete failures? It depends on what criteria you use to evaluate them, which need to be different for different TLDs which were created for different purposes. For those TLDs that are being operated as commercial enterprises, sheer numbers of registrations and dollars paid for registrations are the metric of success, while those intended for limited communities and run on a nonprofit basis have different definitions of "success" -- it is meaningless to call .museum a failure for having a small number of registered names or taking in small amounts of money at the registry level, as this was always expected for this domain.

    By the "sheer numbers" test, .info and .biz are at least modest successes, with in the neighborhood of a million registrations each. That's not too bad for one year of registrations in TLDs launched after the collapse of the Internet boom. It remains to be seen how many of these registrations remain after the initial term expires; a large number were speculative or defensive and might never actually be used, and might not even be considered worth renewing when the time comes. But some are being used, even in high-profile places like mta.info, advertised in Grand Central Station.

    The limited-community domains like .museum, .aero, and .coop need different criteria to judge their performance; there, numbers and money aren't the important thing (their registries are nonprofit, aiming to serve a community rather than make a killing). Perhaps the best measure would be how much acceptance the new TLD has within the particular community or industry it's aimed at. By those standards, unfortunately, the new TLDs haven't made out too well so far; in my travels over the last year, I've been on airplanes, in airports, and in museums, and have yet to notice any use of the applicable new TLDs in those places. URLs are all over the place, on signs, brochures, inflight magazines, travel guides, etc., but they're mostly .com (even for noncommercial entities like airport authorities... bleccch!). So the new restricted TLDs have a long way to go to reach even their modest goal of carving out a niche for themselves.

    .name is probably the biggest disappointment so far (aside from .pro, which hasn't yet managed to launch at all), given that its target market of individuals is huge, but its registration numbers (8,185 at the end of the 3rd quarter) are in the range one would expect of a tiny niche domain. But that's still over 8,000 people who have .name domains, and they do seem to have been registered mostly by people who actually intend to use them, given that the speculators and defensive registrants that dominate in some other TLDs had little interest in .name. A Google search turns up thousands of live pages in .name domains, so there are people using them for their intended purpose. It's not "useless", as the critics say... it's just not getting wide use yet. Perhaps all it needs is the right marketing.

  4. They're Uninteresting to Speculators. Said especially of TLDs with strict restrictions on who can register them or what purpose they can be used for, or that have naming structures with more than one dot in them (as mentioned above). And that's a bad thing? Well, I guess it is from the mindset that sees the only purpose of the DNS as a Make-Money-Fast scheme, with registries, registrars, and speculators all grabbing for brass rings as the merry-go-round turns. But that's not what the DNS was originally created for... in the academic-and-geek Internet, it was simply a naming structure for computers, with nobody making a buck off it -- and nobody then called it a "failure" because of that. Some of us still have some hopes that once the dust settles from the dot-com boom-and-bust, that at least some parts of the DNS, and other Internet things, can return to being simply a logical system for keeping track of stuff, instead of a get-rich-quick con game. At least some of the new TLDs, the ones run by nonprofits for limited purposes, do seem to be attempting to recapture some of the old spirit, so I hope they do work out.

  5. The people at ICANN and the registries are corrupt and evil, so anything they do is inherently bad and deserves to fail! This seems to be a common view among the ICANNWatch crowd. Certainly, many of the actions of these people are highly suspect; they have shown great disdain for the views of anyone outside their limited insider circles, and some of their policies (e.g., the .info sunrise) have led to big messes. Still, I'm not convinced that the ICANN insiders are truly "evil conspirators"; I think in their own minds they think what they're doing is best for the Internet. With all the din of loudly-expressed viewpoints that has characterized debate about domain name policy for the last decade or so, and all the irreconcilable interests with a stake in these things, from the trademark lobby to the registries and registrars to the speculators, somebody can go insane trying to come up with sensible policy that is acceptable to all. An ICANN made up of insiders barricading themselves against the "rabble", awarding contracts to their friends, and adopting a cover-our-asses corporate style of appeasing the most powerful interests and ignoring the rest is an understandable, if disappointing, result.

    Still, until the system changes again (which it might eventually... the U.S. government could still eventually pull the plug on ICANN and start yet another cycle where something new is created to replace it and that, in turn, becomes the focus of all the sniping and griping), it's what we've got to live under, so we ought to try to make good use of the TLDs we've got, even if we think the people in charge of them are jerks. That's really the only choice we have, barring the highly unlikely event that everyone in the Internet can be convinced to switch to a different set of root servers (which, should this happen, would result in the operators of those root servers becoming the new focus of the griping, sniping, litigation, legislation, and all the other nasty stuff...).

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Re: What's Wrong with the New TLDs?
by PeterBarron (pebarron@hotmail.com) on Friday December 06 2002, @07:03AM (#10433)
User #3240 Info | http://www.icannwatch.org/
There is nothing wrong with the new TLDs. They are succeeding or failing on their own merits.

What is wrong is that there aren't more. What is wrong, more specifically, is that there are companies who wish to be registries who are not being allowed to do so for no good reason.

As long as there is a single, qualified applicant being told that they will not be considered, ICANN is restricting access to a market for no good reason. In any other industry, this would be a violation of antitrust laws.

Why not here?

[ Reply to This | Parent ]
Corrected figure
by dtobias (dan@tobias.name) on Friday December 06 2002, @07:16AM (#10435)
User #2967 Info | http://domains.dan.info/
You're right; the actual figure is 85,633. I accidentally got the figure from the wrong column in the SOTD report and wrote the number of new registrations during the second quarter, instead of the total registrations to date.

I thought the figure I gave seemed excessively low, even for an unpopular domain; just the usual idiocy that attends any new TLD launch should result in a few thousand silly registrations, from people who say "Hey, neat, I can cybersquat on Britney Spears!", and hyperactive trademark lawyers who justify their fees by advising clients to register every stupid permutation of their marks, in every TLD, that they can.
[ Reply to This | Parent ]
Re: What's Wrong with the New TLDs?
by dtobias (dan@tobias.name) on Saturday December 07 2002, @05:19AM (#10455)
User #2967 Info | http://domains.dan.info/
And is that a bad thing? Well, it is if you're hoarding them in hopes of them becoming valuable, but if you're merely interested in using them as part of a logical namespace, their resale value is not a concern.
[ Reply to This | Parent ]
Re: What's Wrong with the New TLDs?
by dtobias (dan@tobias.name) on Saturday December 07 2002, @05:23AM (#10456)
User #2967 Info | http://domains.dan.info/
I didn't think I embedded any such misconception in my writing (although I did have a throwaway reference to the "www." prefix). I'm well aware that domain names can be used for many things other than Web sites, and in fact predated the Web in existence.

For the .name domain, in particular, I think email is the real "killer app"; there's a much bigger audience that might be receptive to getting a personalized, permanent, non-ISP-dependent email address than there is interested in having a personal Web site, so .name could really catch on if marketed there. This is best done in conjunction with a user-friendly webmail system so that it can be used by those who have no clue about how to configure an email program.
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