Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Internet Just Had Its Doors Blown Off

A few weeks ago, the "Powers That Be" that control various aspects of the internet decided to do away with perhaps the most defining piece of the internet: .com .

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the organization that is ultimately in charge of distributing internet names and IP addresses.  They are the ones that enforce the use of .com, .net, .org, and everything else.

And so, on June 20th, ICANN announced that it was opening up the internet to almost anything.  For the first time, an internet address doesn't have to end in ".com" or ".net" or ".au".  Instead, it could end in ".john" or ".smith", if an enterprising John Smith wanted to pony up the $185,000 to register his own top level domain.

At first, I was "meh" about this story.  Who's going to sign up for this, and what will it do for them?  Take a prior example: the small western Pacific country of Tuvalu was given the country code of ".tv" in 1998.  (Each country gets its own country code for country-specific things on the internet: .au for Australia, .uk for the United Kingdom, .ad for Andorra ... there's a whole list here)  Businesses lined up behind Tuvalu to "rent" some of their .tv space, with the thinking that it would be really cool to have sites like or -- that all your favorite tv shows would have a .tv address.

But it hasn't really turned out to be all that popular, and Tuvalu appears to have gotten short-changed in the process.

So, at first, I was pretty "meh" about the whole thing.  A nice idea, a $185,000 price tag to keep out spammers and the lowly bloggers like myself, and a limit of 1,000 new top-level domains per year.  Who would sign up for this?

The answer: almost every tech savvy company out there.  Think about it:

  • mickey.disney
  • www.HugeOilSpill.bp

You get the point.  Big businesses will have the opportunity to closely align the company name with their product on the internet.  And, depending on how ICANN sets it up, you may even be able to dispense with the www stuff -- simply type in "twitter" in your browser, and you'll be taken straight to Twitter's home page.

The era of ".com" will seem quaint in 5 years.


  1. I think the very idea of a URL itself is on its way to being quaint. This is an intriguing development, but it comes a little late. I think its shelf-life is limited.

    URL's are an example of what Donald Norman calls "hard" technologies: technology requirements to which the user must adapt. That complex set of numbers, letters, and symbols is necessary for the computer. It's not necessary for the satisfaction of the user. As we understand and develop hard technologies, however, we're replacing these interactions with the alternative soft tech adapted to the user's behavior.

    Look at phone numbers - you don't need to know many phone numbers anymore. These days we tell our phones to call people, not numbers. The phone handles that part for us. The only "hard" aspect remaining is the original number entry and even that is becoming softer with phones that can transfer contact details with a bump or read business cards in a photo.

    I expect URLs to go the same way. They are already beginning to do so with search engines integrated into address bars.

    The company branding opportunity the expanded domain names will provide will be useful while that process transitions but we're rapidly reaching a point where users do not need to know the URL as long as the computer knows it for them. A few years ago, expanded domain names would have been a much more interesting and useful development.

  2. This is the biggest change to the internet's domain naming system since ".com" was introduced 26 years ago, which opened out the formerly academic and military system to commercial use.