New TLDs are coming, and despite all of their critics, myself included, there are some who believe they're a good thing.
Take, for instance, Alexa Raad, whose company Architelos provides "new TLD consulting and management services". She thinks critics of the new TLDs simply don't get it.
In an AdAge opinion piece, Raad writes:
To understand the possibilities of new TLDs, think of an apartment building. A website (i.e., a domain name) is like an apartment. You rent it, conduct a good portion of your life there, entertain folks and get an address so people can find you and send things. You can paint the walls, but you can't upgrade the plumbing or replace the cabinets.
She goes on:
The owner of the apartment building is the TLD. She decides who can live there, charges rent, makes the rules and determines whether you'll have granite tops or laminates in the kitchen, burpee or shag carpet in the den.
Raad rattles off a list of ways well-known businesses and organizations could use their own TLDs: eBay could set up .ebay for power sellers, the American Medical Association could set up .doctor and give every doctor in America a free domain, automakers could use TLDs "to build a communication or logistical network with its suppliers, partners, dealers and customers" and so on and so forth.
It sounds very nice, but is anything like this really going to happen in the real world?
If the situation with the controversial .xxx TLD expected to launch later this year is any indication, new TLDs are less like apartments and more like undesirable neighborhoods you'd love to avoid but sometimes have to visit.
As reported by Computerworld:
Rates for XXX domains announced by Go Daddy range from $99 to $209 for the first year of registration. After that, it's $99 to renew the registration.
What's bugging many businesses about the new porn domain is that they're being forced to cough up $200 or so to protect their brands from being exploited by smut peddlers. In fact, initial returns in the UK indicate that four of five businesses that have pre-registered for the XXX domain have no relationship to the porn industry. Furthermore, ICM, which administers the domain, told Reuters that 900,000 "expressions of interest" from companies who want to pre-register their trademarks to block porn purveyors from using the brands in a XXX domain name.
Ironically, some prominent adult entertainment businesses don't really like .xxx either. Computerworld notes that "Both Hustler and Manwin, one of the world's largest online porn companies, are refusing to pay for registering the dozens of domain names they already own as XXX sites. What's more they want ICM to protect their brands from XXX poachers for free."
Needless to say, the .xxx TLD is somewhat unique, and companies may feel more strongly about protecting their brands from abuse in this TLD than they will in others. But if .xxx does highlight one thing, it's this: where a new TLD is open to public registrations, countless companies will weigh purchasing domains with a sole purpose: protection. In some instances, many will feel forced to shell out for domains they don't want and won't use, simply because the costs of defending against abuse after-the-fact are so high.
From this perspective, it seems clear that it isn't that critics of the new TLDs don't understand the new TLDs, as Raad suggests, but rather that they understand the new TLDs all too well. .xxx is simply providing validating of some of the criticism surrounding the new TLDs.
The good news, of course, is that there's little evidence consumers will embrace new TLDs. Case in point: despite the massive effort to promote the .co ccTLD as a viable alternative to .com, I can't recall ever visiting a website hosted exclusively on a .co domain. Ironically, the only .co domain I see on a regular basis is t.co, which isn't home to an actual website, it's Twitter's URL shortener.
Which begs the question: if a new TLD is launched, but nobody visits its websites, does it really exist? We'll soon find out.