Getting the Facts Straight

Josh Bourne ⬥ 17 July

A recent Slate article titled “www.thosenewdomainnames.areforsuckers,” caught my attention last week.  With all the controversy over ICANN’s planned rollout of a potentially unlimited number of new generic top-level domains (TLDs), I found the frankness of the title refreshing.  As someone who works closely with brand owners, both at FairWinds and CADNA, I have been wary of the prospect of opening up the domain name space in such a radical way.  The article explains ICANN’s plan for launching new TLDs with what I thought was an appropriately critical tone, questioning whether or not there actually exists a need for new TLDs.  But as the article progressed, I realized that the reporter’s reasoning was completely off base.  He actually asserts that cybersquatting is no longer a problem, and that the new TLD program is pointless because “domain names themselves just don’t matter that much nowadays.” He claims that most people use search bars to navigate the Internet, and that browsers are now sophisticated enough to be able to “tell” what site the user is looking for, citing Google’s Chrome in particular.

FairWinds has conducted studies that prove that all users, at some point or another, use direct navigation to browse the Internet. Domains do matter, because eventually all users type a domain directly into the address bar in hopes of finding the content they are seeking.  Furthermore, nearly all print, radio and TV advertising directs consumers to a Web site, not to Google.  Advertising supports users going directly to a Web site, and both user behavior and the enormous traffic to millions of typo- and combo-squatted domains demonstrate it.  After all, the vast majority of the tens of millions of cybersquatted domains exist to court type-in navigators.

Cybersquatters understand advertising and user behavior very well, which explains why cybersquatting has continued to increase every year.  This article failed to recognize that fact, and also failed to realize how likely it is that opening up with domain name space with unlimited TLDs will exacerbate the problem.  Instead, the author claimed that cybersquatters have moved on to social networking sites, insisting that getting one’s identity on Facebook and Twitter is much more important than getting a good domain.  This may be true for individuals, but for businesses, a Twitter account or a Facebook page does not even come close to the legitimacy of a good domain name.

Consumers expect to be able to find a business online via its own web page, not to have to sift through social network pages to interact with the brand. And by making a slew of new TLDs available, it will be even harder for consumers to quickly access the brands they seek.  If it’s so hard for consumers to remember domains now, as the article attests, how will they possibly remember – across all the products and services they seek out online – if the domain is, city.brand, product.brand, brand.brand, etc…?

Even though it began so promisingly, this article completely missed the mark on cybersquatting, how domain names are used, and the expansion of the domain name space.  These are issues of concern not just for businesses, but ones that will ultimately affect the online experience for everyone, particularly for consumers and everyday users.  With so many conflicting interests at stake, it is critical to have accurate information about these issues. 

Tags: advertising, brand owners, browser, CADNA, cybersquatting, direct navigation, domain names, Facebook, FairWinds, Google’s Chrome, ICANN, Internet, radio, Slate, Social Media, TLDs, TV, Twitter, user behavior, Web site

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