Beyond .com … an online world where anything.goes?

Is a custom domain name worthy of your attention and love? nanic_

At 11 o'clock this morning (Melbourne time), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) started accepting applications for custom top-level domain (TLD) names.

Simply put, this means web addresses will no longer have to end with suffixes such as .com, .net or .org. It will now be possible to purchase domain names such as .food, .beer, .sydney or, well, anything you like really.

The introduction of new internet address suffixes will allow industries, businesses, and individuals to register unique web addresses to reflect their brand or values. Importantly, it will also allow applicants to register TLDs in any language; not just English.

But there’s a catch.

It costs US$185,000 to apply for a custom TLD, with an ongoing fee of US$25,000 per year for a minimum of ten years. ICANN has been criticised for these costs and rightly so – the internet is fully automated (meaning very little work for ICANN at all) and these costs are little more than exploitation.

It’s not clear what ICANN will do with this additional income, but they have indicated that US$2 million has been set aside to assist needy applicants – applicants from developing countries, for example.

But let’s put this into perspective: with needy applicants receiving a discount of US$138,000 on their application cost (US$47,000 vs. US$185,000), the seed fund will support less than 15 needy custom TLD applicants across the entire world.

So how popular will custom TLDs be?

Well, some experts are predicting we could see more than 1,000 TLDs being introduced every year.

I’m inclined to think that the initial take-up will be slow, with the costs being prohibitively expensive for all but the largest organisations. Smaller companies will probably wait for the costs to drop before applying for their own TLD.

Over time, businesses will probably start making room for TLDs in their marketing budgets. With a TLD, an organisation could implement internet addresses in a logical structure that fits the organisation or a product range. For instance, car manufacturer Holden could purchase the .holden TLD and create the commodore.holden and cruze.holden addresses.

But it’s search engines that are likely to see the greatest benefit from the introduction of custom TLDs.

Say I’m looking to buy a new car and I want to check out Holden’s range. Do I go to holden.com or cars.holden? The simple solution is to use a search engine as my home page and type “holden cars” into the search box.

Of course, this is what happens already, but search engines will see the introduction of new TLDs as an opportunity to start charging for TLD ranking.

The algorithms that underpin search engines such as Google or Bing are weighted, based on criteria such as payments for keywords or ranking priority. To ensure a new TLD is ranked above .com, .net or the TLD of a rival company, businesses will need to factor in an additional annual payment.

Assuming the costs drop as time passes, the introduction of custom TLDs is likely to be a big step forward for the internet, for online business, and for how we interact with internet-connected devices in the future.

Imagine a future where speech-enabled, internet-connected devices are more commonplace and further developed. Rather than having to type “http://www.holden.com.au” into my device, I will be able to simply say “Holden” and, given that Holden would then own the .holden TLD, my speech-enabled device would take me straight to their site based on my voice command.

But that vision is still a little while off and the first custom TLDs won’t be in use until 2013. Until then, it will be interesting to see just how many organisations are willing to pay the hefty US$185,000 price tag for their own customised slice of the web.

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