Domain changes coming – should startups take notice?

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Startups need to sit up and take notice of big change to the domain name system coming around the corner or miss out potential new opportunities. That at least one of the messages coming out of a new report issued, predictably, by a domain name registrar. But hold on a second, do they have a point?

From next year The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the international body that oversees the structure of the Internet, will liberalise the market for domain name extensions – the .com or .uk part of a web address. This means that anyone, in theory, can apply to operate an extension. So instead of “DietCoke dot com”, Coke could set up diet.coke, zero.coke etc etc.

A new report carried out by The Future Laboratory on behalf of domain name registrar quizzed a survey of 1,000 Britons and 50 e-commerce managers from large high street businesses and 50 e-commerce managers from SMEs. It found that while two thirds of businesses were unaware that this change is taking place, over 80% thought, when told about it, that it would be a good idea in terms of branding, domain name control, things like that.

Here’s the interesting bit for startups: less dumb names like, and something more like

If you’re a well funded startup you could in theory set up a registry to reinforce your brand i.e. every microsite campaign would be punctuated with .yourbrand e.g. .myspace. There’s an argument here about controlling piracy and counterfeiting.

There may also be a startup play for new registries. There will be plenty of opportunities around .news, .film, .london, .restaurant, .football, .fashion etc.

But there’s the flexibility issue. zynga.facebook is a great for a while, but what happens if the business switches to iPhone apps?

Curiously while only 19% of those surveyed said an extension like .microsoft would be memorable only 24% think a .com domain is. What can we concur from that? A lot the time confused punters are probably just Google the domain because they can’t rememember the extension anyway.

The big problem of course is that cybersquatters register all the best domain names or use domain names that resemble trademarks for phishing or similar.

So given the complications and requirement to register even more domain names perhaps doesn’t look so bad after all?

There’s also another problem. Startups of the kind TechCrunch likes to talk about tend to end up as global plays. So getting .woohahoo might be handy, but it’s only useful if the average person gets used to the idea that .toyota is a normal domain name. Other than that we’re back to relying on search again.

And that change in mindset probably won’t happen for a long, long while, given it’s taken ten years for everyone to get used to .com and .net.

  • Berislav Lopac

    domain name extensions

    Actually, Mike, the correct term is “top-level domains” or TLDs. The domain system is similar to the postcode system in the UK, only backwards — the most general “codes” go to the right end, with more specific ones being added to the left, all the way to a specific server or service.

    The big problem of course is that cybersquatters register all the best domain names or use domain names that resemble trademarks for phishing or similar.

    This is a huge issue, especially as it’s not completely clear how the second (and further) level domains will be distributed.

    Personally, I’m somewhat undecided on the whole “unlimited TLDs” thing. From a technical standpoint, this will be a big mess, a total chaos with regards to responsibility and who owns what. On the other hand, it opens up some interesting marketing opportunities. I guess the best approach is, as the french would say, qui vivra, verra.

  • Tom Morris

    Always thought this would be quite good for Apple, they could get .mac and possibly integrate it into their mobileme product as a premium up-sell.

    • Jof

      “” not short enough for you?

  • Jof

    Except, isn’t it something ridiculous like $100,000 to get one?

  • Francis Simisim

    They could always contest if cybersquatters were getting their preferred domain names. It’s will be so tough to remember domain names next time once you input it in your address bar. But then again maybe I’m a bit biased as I invest in Domain Names myself. I just think it will be such a mess.


  • Jules Morgan

    TLDs started becoming obsolete the minute they relaxed regulations on how you qualified for the different variations.

    In 10 years people will be wondering why on earth we added .com to the end of everything for no apparent reason.

  • Jof

    Start buying dotcoms now; they will be worth even more money once people figure out that it’ll take non-tech users 10 years to catch up with the change.

  • Neil Drori

    The domain name issue is already complicated and in the U.S., clouded with legal issues related to intellectual property rights.
    As far as I can see, this will only provide more fodder for the litigation crowd. If this change takes place it will be almost impossible to keep from stepping on someone’s trademark.

  • mike

    Unless there is some serious regulation, this will end in tears!

    I heard a while ago that it would be $100,000 to register one, if so, that should weed out 99.9% the ‘speculators’.

    Does make me wonder about the single word .com domain I purchaced earlier this year though…. maybe I should have waited and snapped up my own extention… hmmmm!?!?


    We went out and spent $xx,xxx on our domain recently because it was the best option available and well worth the investment. The .com wasn’t available unless we were going to write a seven figure check. Keyword matching domains give a business a huge competitive advantage. Look at, they’re essentially a
    pumped-up affiliate program that is driven by the strength of the domain and aggressive (although unnecessary) PPC marketing. The company is pull in hundreds of millions in rev, or last time I looked up their financials.

    For SEO these new TLD’s will be worthless. Google practically ignores the .info extension simply because they are cheap ($.99) and were widely used for abusing Adsense.

    Direct navigation (type-ins) traffic is 90% within the universe of the .com extension. Followed by the .net and then .org

    Human behavior doesn’t change so easily and it won’t in this case either. If anything this will be (like the example of .coke) a $100,000 marketing campaign for some of the Fortune 100.

    The speculators who actually front the cash to establish a TLD that won’t give any business some sort of competitive advantage are going to lose their asses.

    I agree that this debacle will only drive up the prices of the top three, .com, .net and .org

    • matt

      I disagree that anyone fronting 100K to buy their extension will lose their ass…

      spend 100K on .credit, or .realestate, .forsale

      think of all the professionals that will buy a domain name with those extensions… At current .com price $9.99/year (of course the new extensions will be higher), there will be a lot of people wanting to get in on this for business branding.

      Also, In 5-10 years, Google, Twitter, Apple, the internet will not be like it is today. You don’t think their will be new search engines built on these TLDs?

    • http://none John Salan

      you are also purchasing links and engaging in blog spamming. Not worth the investment if you are going to do that.

  • Paul Walsh

    I see a piracy problem *when* phishers buy up domains that some people will assume are owned by those who have the trademark.

    That said, the vast majority of people tend to Google domains, as you mention in your post – but perhaps that’s something which is likely to change with the next generation.

  • sesli

    Yes Thanks

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