Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the registration of the first .COM domain name. Since then, approximately 80 million .COM domains have been registered according to a report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). Despite an increase in the number of gTLDs available, .COM has dominated and continues to dominate the domain name space, outranking all other global extensions in total registrations.
VeriSign, the registry that runs .COM, held an event to mark the occasion. Both former president Bill Clinton and current ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom attended and were featured speakers. During a panel about the history of the Internet, Beckstrom actually agreed that another gTLD, .NET, is “worthless,” echoing the sentiments of comedian Mo Rocca, who also participated in the panel.
What Beckstrom confirmed about .NET is a commonly held opinion among domain name experts: while not entirely “worthless,” most other gTLDs, not only .NET, are considerably less valuable than .COM. This has everything to do with Internet user behavior and the general brand equity assigned to .COM. Users have been conditioned to append .COM onto everything from company or brand names to place names to generic terms while surfing the Internet. They expect that this will be a fast, direct way to access the content they are seeking.
There are exceptions such as .ORG, which users are generally inclined type in directly when they expect that the content owner is a “.ORG” organization. Country code domains also receive type-in traffic when the user is seeking local country content. However traffic is overwhelmingly headed for .COM sites – 90.2% of Internet traffic is .COM-oriented according to recent research that FairWinds performed for a client.
So what does the assertion that .NET, an extension with over 12 million registrations, is “worthless” mean in the face of ICANN’s plans to launch an unlimited number of new gTLDs? Well for one thing, it should make people question ICANN’s motives. If the head of the organization is agreeing that the second most popular gTLD is “worthless,” then why are ICANN and the businesses that dominate the ICANN community trying so hard to introduce more potentially “worthless” extensions? At this point, ICANN has no proof that Internet users are even interested in utilizing other gTLDs – in fact, if recently released gTLDs like .INFO, .TEL, and .TRAVEL are any indication, Internet users are not interested at all. The motivating factor behind the push for new TLDs is likely pure economics—the push is to see just how many TLDs ICANN can sell and how many domain registrations these companies that control generic or place-name TLDs can sell to businesses and other organizations, domain speculators, and the general public.
If user behavior is a clear indication of user demand, then 90.2% of those online already vote for .COM. As a result, any organization that plans to apply for a new branded gTLD is going to have to put forth a good deal of marketing effort to train their current and future audience to pretty dramatically switch their surfing habits. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be cheap. The next question then is, will new gTLDs really be worth it?