TechRepublic’s dismissal of generic top-level domains overlooks a lot of facts, not to mention nearly all SMBs

“I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.” —Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com and inventor of Ethernet, writing in a 1995 InfoWorld column

“There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio service inside the United States.”—T.A.M. Craven, Federal Communications Commission commissioner (1961)

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” —Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” —Western Union internal memo, 1876

“Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” —Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946

“Radio has no future.” —Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), British mathematician and physicist, ca. 1897

“That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.”—Scientific American, Jan. 2, 1909

Dismissing new technologies, or declaring them failed before they’ve had an opportunity to prove their merits, has long been a popular pastime. However, it is a hobby that is not without its dangers as time is a dispassionate judge and even the most educated naysayer may be proven wrong. Better to point out the challenges, promote conversation, and engage with new and emerging technologies in an encouraging and constructive manner than outright discount an idea that poses a positive solution to any—or, as is more often likely, several—problems.

Recently, TechRepublic published one such blatant dismissal of a new technology in James Sanders’ “ICANN’s generic top-level domain rules cause major headaches for online businesses.” To fully capture the spirit of Sanders’ piece, in his second paragraph he states that “the proliferation of gTLDs has added no value, but has lined the pockets of gTLD operators from organizations and individuals in the practice of defensive registration, and joke websites that serve no practical purpose except to highlight the ridiculousness of gTLDs, such as rebecca.blackfriday.”

The internet is not solely comprised of large brands

If we want to believe new gTLDs have no value on this basis, we first have to believe that the only opinions that matter are those of major brands—those who can more often afford to pay for the expensive .COM and would be more likely to be trolled by people potentially registering new domains utilizing their brand name. No mention is made of the many individuals, artists, startups, and small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) priced out of a .COM domain scene that closely resembles California’s real estate market.

These small to medium-sized businesses represent the bulk of registrations across Rightside’s portfolio of 40 gTLDs. These businesses typically opt for a new domain extension for one of the following reasons:

  • The .COM version of their name was unavailable or too expensive
  • They identify professionally with a specific new extension like .CONSULTING, .VET, .ENGINEER, or .LAWYER
  • New gTLDs are sufficiently specific, allowing them to register an exact name match, thereby potentially boosting their SEO

These SMBs are neither defensively registering their brand across a string of new domain extensions nor registering “joke websites that serve no practical purpose.” Given the vital role a website can play in a business’ success, not to mention the fact that small and medium-sized businesses are often operating on tight budgets that allow little room for errors, we very much doubt that the businesses registering these domains are doing so for impractical or comedic purposes.

If you have to be highly selective in order to make a point, your argument might not be very strong

According to ICANN, there are currently 948 gTLDs on the market, and as with any industry that caters to a diverse customer range, the quality and tone of these gTLDs varies significantly. A fair and genuine assessment of the new domain industry that didn’t intentionally set out to flaunt its lack of value would have to acknowledge this range. But if we look at the selection representing approximately 2% of new gTLDs that Sanders has chosen to represent the entire new domain industry, we wind up with “.CLOUD, .RICH, .PLUMBING, .BLACK, .BLACKFRIDAY, .ADULT, .PORN, .SEX, .XXX, .EXPOSED, .GRIPE, .REVIEW, .REVIEWS, .SUCKS, .ACCOUNTANT, .ACCOUNTANTS, .CAREER, .CAREERS, .DENTAL, .DENTIST, .LOAN, and .LOANS.

Now, many of those domain extensions are fantastic for the aforementioned SMBs looking for an inexpensive and industry-specific domain name. For example, .PLUMBING is the perfect domain extension for a family owned business that wanted a clear and concise domain name like www.familyname.plumbing. And it seems highly unlikely that all those big brands defensively registering new domains are concerned about .PLUMBING, or .ACCOUNTANT, .DENTAL, and .DENTIST for that matter. The implication that these domain extensions are either meaningless or vicious weapons to be wielded against large brands is simply untrue.

Is our industry proud of .ADULT, .PORN, .SEX, .XXX, and .SUCKS? Of course not. But should we be forced to defend ourselves against accusations that these limited extensions represent our industry anymore than a handful of adult channels represent all of cable or televised programming? I would argue no. Because the reality is that for every .ADULT or .SUCKS there’s a .CANCERRESEARCH and .ROCKS. For every implicitly suspect or negative domain extension, there is a .GIVES, .GREEN, .EDUCATION, .LOVE, and .FAMILY—gTLDs that promote learning, social change, creativity, and expression.

I’m reminded of the homily “we see the world not as it is, but as we are.” To present a balanced perspective on new gTLDs we’d have to show it all, both the good and the bad. We can’t choose a small handful and declare that they represent the failure of a much larger industry with a much larger and more diverse customer base, unless, of course, our intention is only to declare a failure without taking the bigger picture into account.

This unfortunate use of cherry picking extends to the argument that “marketing doesn’t understand gTLDs,” a point Sanders deemed sufficiently important to use as a subhead. But as evidence of this entire and very vital point, Sanders uses a misstep by a single marketing company which would be akin to saying tech writers don’t do their homework on the basis of a single tech reporter failing to present more than a single isolated case to support a broad conclusion.

And we have evidence that marketers—not all, perhaps, but many—recognize the value and utility of new gTLDs. Take digital marketer Ryan Bitzer, who said, “For years, the 800-pound gorilla was the .COM and there was no way around it. If you couldn’t get that .COM then the business would be named something else. And I think we’re finally starting to see the slow erosion of that, just getting people used to typing something else after the dot.” Bitzer is utilizing www.ryanbitzer.rocks for his own work and encourages his clients to utilize new domains like .VIDEO.

These problems are not unique to new GTLDs

Sanders raises some legitimate concerns, such as typosquatting and the imperative for brands and businesses to immediately register the domains of their choice to avoid cybersquatting. What he fails to mention, however, is that these abuses are not unique to new gTLDs. All of these issues existed when businesses were limited to a handful of options such as .COM and .NET. Defensive registration didn’t spring into existence when ICANN opened the door to new gTLDs; brands were already defensively registering variations of their name within the .COM string.

None of these issues are new. And, in fact, all of these challenges are subjects the domain industry at large should constantly discuss and address. But by misrepresenting typosquatting, cybersquatting, and defensive registration as unique to new gTLDs, Sanders is contributing to a false sense of security for businesses and brands exclusively registering .COM domains.

In fact, the recent presidential election cycle has been riddled with prank domain registrations, and we’re not talking about new gTLDs like .VOTE, .REPUBLICAN, and .DEMOCRAT. In February, someone registered www.jebbush.com and redirected it to Donald Trump’s campaign site. Rather than view that as a case against .COM or evidence that domains and the internet have somehow failed, we can use this occurrence as an opportunity for a real and thoughtful conversation about the best approach to branding and online security. The reality is, .COM isn’t going away because we happen to find one case of someone abusing it, and to dismiss the entire value of a good TLD on the basis of a single use is far too simplistic.

The internet is a complex place and the people and brands that utilize the internet deserve to be recognized as equally unique with needs, budgets, and an identity that can’t be summed up by a single domain and don’t deserve to be oversimplified by a single opinion piece. We’re proud of the creativity that brands and individuals of all sizes have exhibited in their use of new TLDs, excited to be part of their story, and optimistic about the future of new gTLDs. Maybe that comes from seeing the world not as it is, but as we are and can be. But these new gTLDs have afforded us the opportunity to help shape the internet and we really could not be more thrilled by the incredible potential.

Send comments to blog@rightside.news.

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