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16 Feb 2006

Reflection on new TLDs ICANN

While pondering the renewal prospects for the three sponsored TLDs, .aero, .museum, and .coop, I went back and looked at the original applications for those and also for the unsponsored TLDs approved at the same time, .BIZ, .INFO, .NAME, and .PRO. Two lessons leapt out at me

If you build it, they won't care

All of the new TLDs offered a range of estimates of how many registrations they'd get, at 10%, 50%, and 90% confidence level. Their confidence was misplaced, since none of them have come close to their least optimistic 90% confidence level. The closest is .INFO which predicted between 3 and 11 million registrations and actually has 2.38M. The farthest is .PRO which predicted between 3 and 15 million and actually has 4900, but it's a special case due to being stuck in limbo for several years when its sponsor ran out of money.

You can fairly say that .INFO and .BIZ (with 1.28M registrations vs. predicted 3.8 to 30M) are successes, but pretty pale versions of success since each is in practice no more than a clone of .COM where people go if there's nothing good available in .COM. It's hard to think of a well known domain in either other than MTA.INFO, the New York City transit authority. Neither has come close to catching up with .ORG with 4.4M or .NET with 6.8M. The next biggest is .NAME where I counted 142,000 domains against a predicted 7 to 58M. Although my numbers may be a bit low since they sell individual names, it's unlikely they're anywhere close to recovering the $7.5M the proposal said they were investing. The three sponsored domains, as I've noted before, each have only 5% of the minimum they projected.

The comparison between .AERO and .TRAVEL is most interesting. The new .TRAVEL domain has an aggressive campaign to sell domains to members of trade organizations, and they say they already have over 10,000 registrations, twice what .AERO has, even though they haven't formally launched yet. A little spot checking showed an awful lot of .travel domains landing on a registrar's parking page, suggesting they're defensive trademark registrations, but we'll see soon enough.

In any event, it's clear that with the exception of .COM clones, selling new TLD domains to prospective registrants is somewhere between hard and impossible.

Domains are not directories

The .MUSEUM and .AERO domains both made attempts to build a directory structure into the domain. The .MUSEUM domain has a lot of geographic names and keywords you can string together to guess a name, like, and a wildcard record so if you guess wrong, they show you a web page with suggestions of names you might be looking for. It's not awful, but nobody I know is likely to type into their browser address bar rather than getty museum into their Google search box.

The airline industry already has a lot of widely used short names, including two-letter codes for airlines and three letter codes for airports. About 25.000 two- and three-letter codes are reserved for airlines and airports that might want them. Again this is not an inherently awful idea, but again that's not how people look for airlines and airports. Only 41 out of nearly a thousand two-letter airline codes are claimed, and under 500 of 9500 three-letter airport codes. Bret Fausett noted the Little Rock Ark. airport went to the effort of registering but didn't bother to claim their reserved

The .TRAVEL domain seems to have recognized this, too, and plans to provide a searchable directory in which .TRAVEL registrants are invited to list themselves. I still doubt that it'll supplant Google, but it's easier to make a case for an industry-specific directory than to expect people to remember the naming rules for a directory-like TLD.

  posted at: 22:01 :: permanent link to this entry :: 5 comments
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