Stampede may follow .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," says Audrey Apfel, an analyst at Gartner Group. "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," says David Scott Lewis, an analyst at Meta Group.

          "If .biz just becomes a mirror image of .com, then I don’t know what real purpose it will serve," says 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," says Bobby Chowdhury, chief technology officer at United Media in New York. The domains may have some value down the road, but for now, Chowdhury says, he doesn’t see it.

          The group selected by ICANN to run the .biz domain says it plans to make .biz what .com was originally intended to be — "a space on the internet specifically for business," says Ken Hansen, director of corporate development at NeuStar. NeuStar, in a joint proposal with Melbourne IT in Australia, will run the .biz registry through a recently created firm, NeuLevel.

          A .biz registrant will have to self-certify that it’s a business or that it intends to use the domain for commercial purposes, says 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 says.

          Richard Villars, an analyst at International Data Corporation, says 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 says.

          But David Curle, a director and lead analyst at Outsell, a consultancy in Burlingame, California, says 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 says.

          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," says Michael Mann, CEO of a company that sells domain names.

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

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