Why ICANN’s changes to TLD matter

ICANN two months ago made an announcement that domain names can now be extended beyond the generic TLD’s set (they also are allowing the use of non-Latin characters such as Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese, etc). Meaning, instead of everyone competing to get a “.com”, people can buy “.yourbrand” and create websites off that. I think it’s brilliant — Ester Dyson, the founding chairperson of ICANN, doesn’t agree.

As someone that’s developed multiple online properties, organisations (both for-profit and not-for-profit) and had people try to rip-off several brands I’ve created, I’ve experienced enough to welcome this as a huge step forward — and here’s why.

ICANN’s strategy originally wanted to disrupt a market place player, which is why they assigned these generic TLD’s like .org and .net (.com was controlled by a┬ácorporation). But what matters now is not the historical reasons but what will benefit the world based on historical experience (and failed strategy). That benefit is better consumer protection and reduced costs of business.

Let’s rethink this
Consider the following:
(1) The purpose of a trademark is to allow customers the ability to distinguish what they are buying. It’s for the customer’s protection first.
(2) A domain name is simply a human-intelligent way to to access ip address. Whether it’s apple.com or apple.eats.microsoft — the point isn’t one of branding, but for humans to be able to identify a resource they seek.
(3) While there are plenty of domain names available, good ones no longer exist. There is a bias to having a “.com” and it’s why many companies from the web2.0 era had to resort to creative domains like del.icio.us and missing vowels like flickr.com

What the historical DNS system has done is create an unnecessary scarcity where domain name registrars and brokers of ‘premium’ domain names benefit. Having a company own the name space like “.IBM” makes perfect sense because “.com”, “.org”, and “.net” have lost their original meaning of distinguishing “commercial” businesses over “non-profits” and the like.

What matters more is that when a consumer wants the comfort of the company they seek, they can do it with the assurance it’s correct. “.paypal” for example could have huge implications for fraud detection for consumers (some fraud is done due to misspelled domains similar to the target or switching .com with another TLD). Better still, it actually decreases the cost of businesses for companies because they no longer need to chase the unlimited TLD variations of their name to protect their brand — which they only did so, so they wouldn’t lose customers confused by confusing branding.

ICANN’s changes are a radical change, but they are perfectly in line with the original intent of trademark law. Sorry Ester, but you’re wrong on this one.

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