Could it be a .mess?

The problem with the decision to add seven new top-level domains is that no one really knows whether they will be a gift or a curse.

          The problem with the decision to add seven new top-level domains is that no one really knows whether they will be a gift or a curse. Will the addition of domains like .biz and .museum make it easier to navigate the Internet, or will the process be more confusing? The answer is far from clear, say analysts and end users.

          The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers this month selected registries to run seven new domains: .biz, .info, .name, .pro, .museum, .aero and .coop. The new domains aren’t expected to come online until the middle of next year.

          Companies are expected to buy large swaths of .biz, .info and other names — but their primary goal will be to protect corporate trademarks.

          "This is not created to make an average company’s life easier — absolutely not," said Audrey Apfel, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "I think it makes life worse."

          Obtaining the domains will be an expensive proposition: Gartner estimates that companies will spend around $70,000 to maintain a domain-name strategy that would include registering variants of the names they want to protect.

          But whether companies will use the names they buy is unclear. In the commercial space, the .com vs. .biz argument "is kind of a moot point — .com is it," said David Scott Lewis, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

          "If .biz just becomes a mirror image of .com, then I don’t know what real purpose it will serve," said Bruce Manning, an information systems manager at AMI Aircraft Seating Systems, a manufacturer in Colorado Springs.

          The new domains are "probably going to be very confusing to everyone, at least to begin with," said Bobby Chowdhury, chief technology officer at United Media Inc. in New York. The domains may have some value down the road, but for now, Chowdhury said, he doesn’t see it.

          The group selected by Marina Del Rey, Calif.-based ICANN to run the .biz domain said it plans to make .biz what .com was originally intended to be — "a space on the Internet specifically for business," said Ken Hansen, director of corporate development at NeuStar Inc. in Washington. NeuStar, in a joint proposal with Melbourne IT Ltd. in Melbourne, Australia, will run the .biz registry through a recently created firm, NeuLevel LLC.

          A .biz registrant will have to self-certify that it’s a business or that it intends to use the domain for commercial purposes, said Hansen. Moreover, NeuLevel is proposing to ICANN that domain dispute-resolution procedures be amended to allow a business to challenge the ownership of a domain name if it isn’t being used for commercial purposes, he said.

          Richard Villars, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., said the new domains may improve the process users go through to find information on the Internet, as long as the new domains don’t become corrupted with improper registrations. "Shortcuts like this . . . will make life easier over time," he said.

          But David Curle, a director and lead analyst at Outsell Inc., a consultancy in Burlingame, Calif., said he wonders how end users will know whether to type in .com or .biz or some other suffix. "The result is going to be a very haphazard collection of domains that is really going to create more confusion than anything else," Curle said.

          While there’s no doubt that speculators will also move in to buy these names, buying some of the new domains will be "extraordinarily risky," said Michael Mann, CEO of Bethesda, Md.-based LLC, a company that sells domain names.

          "Speculation in .com names is, for the most part, not profitable for most people," said Mann.

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