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01 Jul 2009
ICANN's Sydney meeting has come and gone, with the promised flood of new top-level domains claimed to be ever closer to reality. Does the world need more TLDs? Well, no.
Way back in the mid 1990s, it seemed obvious that Internet users would use the DNS as a directory, particularly once early web browsers started to add .COM to words typed in the address bar. This led to the first Internet land rush, with heavy hitters like Procter and Gamble registering diarrhea.com in 1995.
Everyone wanted to get into .COM, since that was the de-facto directory for the Internet. Network Solutions, the predecessor to Verisign, had a monopoly on registrations in .COM and that was a problem. Many people thought the solution was to add more TLDs with different monopoly registrars (often themselves.) I believe that I was the first to propose breaking the registration monopoly by splitting registries and registrars in December 1996. One of ICANN's undeniable successes is the competitive registrar market, which (as I predicted) as allowed a wide variety of sales models, and a lot of bundling of low-cost domains with web hosting and other services.
Since 1996 we've learned two things about TLDs: TLDs make a lousy directories, and users don't use the DNS for directories anyway. Several of the new TLDs introduced by ICANN since 2000 were intended to be structured as directories. The .AERO domain reserved two letter domains for airlines and three letter domains for airports, using standard industry codes, which was a clever idea, but not one that interested many airlines or airports. The .MUSEUM domain tried very hard to be a directory, with names organized both by the type of museum (metropolitan.art.museum) and the location (vam.london.museum) but that didn't work either.
A huge change in the Net since the late 1990s is that everyone uses search engines to find what they're looking for, to the extent that many non-technical users don't know the difference between the address and search boxes in their browsers. (Sometimes they'll type a search term into the address box, which keeps domain squatters in business.)
So if TLDs aren't useful as directories, what could they be useful for? We'll address the possibilities tomorrow.
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