More Domain Names Brewing

The governing body for Internet domain names is meeting this week in Japan to draw up its blueprint for expanding the choice of Web site names available to the general public. However, the question remains whether simply allowing more alternatives to the “.com” suffix will solve the naming system’s problems.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) plans to start accepting proposals on August 1st for new domain suffixes to supplement the small handful of choices — primarily .com, .net and .org — now available for unrestricted use by the general public. ICANN hopes to select the new suffixes by early November and have them available for use about a month later.

More Suffixes or Longer Names?

The current domain registry system is managed for all registrars around the world by Network Solutions, Inc. (Nasdaq: NSI) through a contract with ICANN.

Proponents of adding new suffixes argue that the current selection of “good” names is running low. In the booming Internet business, they argue, a good name is one that is easily and quickly associated with the contents or purpose of the site, such as Bobsbooks.com for a hypothetical online bookstore run by Bob.

While the choice of available domain names using the current suffixes is still so large they can only be counted exponentially, many companies competing to sell domain names maintain that the choice of simple, intuitive — in short, “good” names — is much smaller. Adding suffixes, they argue, will enable a library owned by Bob to launch bobsbooks.lib, rather than bobsbooklibrary.com, a less obvious name selection.

The selection of so-called “good” names gets even smaller when registrars take into consideration recent U.S. and international trademark infringement decisions. Courts are more frequently ruling that names that are already registered as trademarks, or that have become widely recognizable in the offline world, should belong to the same person or company in the online world as well.

While ICANN agrees the recent boom in demand for the most useful or intuitive domain names is shrinking the pool of remaining available names, the organization says it may have a better answer than adding new suffixes: longer domain names.

“Even a slight lengthening of possible second-level domain names increases the available possibilities much more dramatically than the addition of new [suffixes],” ICANN says. Increasing the currently permitted domain name length by one character, for example, would multiply the number of possible domain names 37-fold, while adding three new suffixes would only double the number of names available with the existing three suffixes, ICANN says.

More Competition, Easier Surfing

Proponents of adding new suffixes also argue the new names would increase competition among companies that register domain names for users, driving down the price of registering names and ultimately making it easier for everyone and their neighbors to establish their own online identities.

Of course, for companies trying to maintain a brand identity, having six or more other sites with the same name and a different suffix is a major problem. Many companies, both large and small, will decide to register their domain name with each new suffix that comes up, thereby eliminating the allegedly newly available blocks of names.

Expansion at a Price

Growing the domain name selection will not be easy or cheap, ICANN notes. The organization posted for public comment dozens of questions about how to go about expanding the choices fairly and without confusion. The group also estimated the cost of conducting an application process for those who want to operate or sponsor new top-level domains could range from $150,000 to $350,000 (US$).

Based on the response ICANN has received to date, splitting that cost among 7 to 20 applicants would mean each would have to pay $7,500 to $50,000 for the privilege of controlling a new set of domain names.

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