Source: Thursday, March 28th, 2011

A New Era for Internet Domains: Why .XXX Is Just the Beginning

Ben Crawford is the CEO of domain industry firm CentralNic. Prior to joining that firm in 2009, Crawford worked at various jobs which combined his love of sports with Internet technology, including serving as executive producer for IBM's official Sydney Olympic Games website.

A new era of Internet use is about to begin, marked by the recent decision by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to approve the long-debated .xxx top-level domain (TLD).

ICANN will shortly be announcing the final rules and roll-out schedule for hundreds of other new TLDs. The program will let brands, trademark holders, industry associations and entrepreneurs bypass traditional extensions and become "masters of their own domains" by acquiring and controlling their own domain suffixes such as .canon, .nyc or even .mashable.

The Benefits of New Top-Level Domains

Where domains like .com and .net have little informational value in-and-of-themselves, most of the upcoming extensions contain information about the content of the websites they support. The domain .xxx will mark sites that contain adult content, and ICANN's recently approved domain extensions in Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese characters indicate that the content of websites using these domains is written in those scripts. In the future, locally focused websites will use their city TLD, websites on specific cultures will use their community TLD, and businesses will use their industry TLD or their own .brands.

New and more secure distribution methods will emerge with these more informative TLDs. The current model for distributing domain names using generic extensions (.com, .net, .org, etc.) has huge consumer benefits, in that anyone can get a domain name online quickly and affordably from more than 100,000 registrar and reseller websites.

However, the system also contains serious flaws. Because these domains are sold as an unrestricted commodity, anyone can obtain domain names that include trademarks - legitimate trademark owners and "brand pirates" alike. The result is that the current domain name system is rife with speculators, squatters, phishing sites and so on, with an entire industry built around processing complaints, legal actions and the arbitration of domain name disputes.

The .brand TLDs will remedy many of these issues by creating a regulated online space that can be tightly controlled by the principal that sets its policies. As a result, consumers will benefit from the assurance that all domain names with a given ending are authentic and trustworthy. Banks, charities, online merchants, industry associations and other entities that rely on online transactions will particularly benefit from this controlled online presence.

The Red Cross offers a good example. In the midst of recent tragedies in Japan, it has had to deal with domains registered by third parties containing the words "Red Cross" and "Japan." Taking action against these registrants to curtail possible misdirected donations can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars (even under ICANN's Uniform Dispute-Resolution Policy) that could otherwise be used to aid the victims of this horrible disaster. A .redcross TLD could help to avoid this scenario entirely. The Red Cross would have control over who could obtain one of its domains, and therefore bring unprecedented clarity and security to consumers with the simple message, "If the web address doesn't end with .redcross, it's not authentic."

With the controversial .xxx debate out of the way, ICANN will shortly be announcing the final rules and rollout schedule for other new TLDs. While there has been much resistance to the introduction of these new TLDs, largely from representatives of trademark owners concerned about compounding the problems of the current system, ICANN has been through years of laborious policy consultation, publishing a half-dozen drafts of the applicant guidebook, which now includes many new protections like rapid take-down provisions for knockoff sites. Although many observers feel that ICANN's bottom-up policy-making methodology has led to paralysis, the .xxx decision is a sign that new TLDs are sure to come soon. After all, the ICANN Board does not wish to be remembered for approving .xxx but declining more worthy domains, like .unicef.

Transitioning Away From a .com World

Some marketers are throwing their arms up in despair as 15 years of guiding consumers to their brand's .com destinations must soon be "unlearned." But in fact, the introduction of new TLDs will be quite seamless, and consumers' experience of the Internet will be drastically improved.

First, despite all the regulation, technology and expense that is implemented behind the scenes, the customer message from any major brand or global website with its own TLD will be as simple as: "You no longer have to type '.com' at the end of our web address."

Second, search results will be populated with web addresses with much more variety, as smaller companies take advantage of new domain extensions that are more informative and intuitive or more creative than the options they currently enjoy. New TLDs will improve the user experience by making it even easier to distinguish between the websites of Mary Smith the lawyer (, Mary Smith the children's entertainer ( and Mary Smith the porn star (

And for consumers wishing to start their own websites, they may be able to get their domain names for free from their telecom provider, or even from a sponsor.

Regardless of its impact on accessing or suppressing adult content online, .xxx is poised to be the extension that incites 1,000 new top-level domains, and now is the time to prepare for the impending Internet revolution.

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