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|VOLUME 26 • NUMBER 1 • JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2002|
ON THE NET •
The Top-Level Domain Game
by Greg R. Notess
Reference Librarian, Montana State University
The history of the Internet is in many ways a story of developments in directions that no one ever foresaw. Certainly in the early days, when Internet pioneers came up with the .edu, .gov, .mil, .com, .org, and .net top-level domain names, they had no idea about the explosive growth in Internet use among the public and the commercial sectors. And who could have predicted the millions of dollars spent on domain names like business.com?
Had some omniscient librarians been involved, they certainly would have come up with sensible group of top-level domains which could be divided fairly among the throngs of today's and tomorrow's Internet users. And those top-level domains (TLDs) would have made sense in all languages and been able to classify all Internet sites.
Such an event never happened, so instead there have been only a limited number of generic top-level domains. While there is a wide range of top-level domains available, the majority are the two-letter country codes, such as .ca for Canada, .mx for Mexico, .de for Germany, etc. In addition, there are the other top-level domains that are reserved for specific uses—.edu for U.S. higher education and .gov for U.S. federal government, except the military sites that are .mil. That leaves only the .com, .org, and .net top-level domain names for general usage by any organization or individual that did not fit into the other categories. And as this group has expanded so exponentially in the past five years or so, no longer restricted as they initially were to certain groups, the .com became the most popular by far.
Many sites have hoped to see the TLD name space expanded. If other companies had already snapped up travel.com, travel.net, and travel.org, new TLDs could provide other options using travel. In addition, the vast commercial space could perhaps be subdivided into more categories to make the allocation of names more related to the function of the organization as well.
For the past several years, there have been intense political, legal, and practical battles about what new TLDs should be approved and implemented, and who should be responsible for registering and managing (and thus, profiting from) these new TLDs. The story of those battles, their current status, and future concerns is a long and fascinating tale, which I will not go into here. (A search on ICANN, IANA, or TLD should pull up plenty of articles covering that aspect.)
While these battles have raged, nothing changed on the real Web. Now that they have approached some resolution, we are finally at the beginning stages of seeing new TLDs on the Web as functioning addresses. So there are now definite impacts for the information professional and other searchers.
New TLDs already live late in 2001 include the .info, .biz, and .name, while several others are due to come online over the next several months. In November 2000, seven new TLDs were approved in principle. These are the first new TLDs other than some country code changes since 1988, well before the Internet became the common online resource it is today.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE PROFESSION
So why should these new TLDs even matter to the information professional? Much of the time, especially in the early days of the new TLDs, there will be little impact on the vast majority of our work. However, being aware that the new domains are legitimate TLDs and part of new domain names is useful. That way when someone suggests checking out show.biz, you will at least realize that such an address can now exist.
In addition, the TLDs may change the way in which to handle URLs. How often can you efficiently find an appropriate Web site simply by guessing a URL based on your knowledge of the current domain name structure? Depending on the way in which the new TLDs are adopted and used, as well as how long it takes for a sufficient quantity of sites to start using them, the way in which we guess URLs may change.
It will take some time to determine how each of these new TLDs will be used and by what kind of Web sites. But once the patterns and trends can be identified, they may change the ways in which we browse and search the Web.
THE NEW TOP CODES
The approved seven new TLDs are .info, .biz, .name, .pro, .museum, .aero, and .coop. Just because these have been approved does not guarantee that they will indeed ever be used, but it sure makes it much more likely.
Each of the seven has a particular organization charged with being the registry for the new top-level domain, but each registry needs to first negotiate an approved contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). So far, only the registries for .info, .biz, and .name have obtained their contracts.
Each of the new designators has a specific function, and several have some rather new and unique ways in which they are proposing that domains will be structured. To check on the status of these codes and to get some idea of where the contracts stand, see ICANN's New TLD Program page (www.icann.org/tlds/).
Before looking at each of the new TLDs in more depth, it is important to understand the difference between a domain registry and a domain registrar. The registries are the organizations that administer the top-level domain, but they are not typically the ones to whom individuals or companies apply and pay fees to get a specific domain. That is the registrar. There are now hundreds of registrars, and these are the companies that will sell domain names from whatever.com to newcompany.biz to acronym.org to new.info.
.Info for Anyone
Of all the new top-level domains, only the .info is wide open as to who can use it. Afilias, the official .info registry, is already using the new TLD and can be found at either www.afilias.info or www.nic.info. As information professionals well know, "information" is certainly a broad term. So almost any site could probably choose to use a TLD of .info. At least the registry is putting no limits on its use, at this point.
It is far too soon to gauge the eventual use of the .info, but some of the earliest users include adult sites, hacker sites, and non-English language sites. Of the more substantial names, some early live examples include www.tennessee.info, www.palsite.info, and my2cents.info, while www.helpfiles.info, www.stakeholderpension.info, and www.visa.info were still under construction. Others, such as business.info, are live, but they only redirect to an existing site using a more traditional TLD.
.Biz for Ecommerce
The .biz TLD is not as open as the .info, since it is intended for business. In particular, it is designed for ecommerce businesses and to take the pressure off of .com. While anyone can get a .com address, the .biz domains are to be restricted in that they "must be used or intended to be used primarily for bona fide business or commercial purposes." Thus, the only sites using the .biz TLD should be involved in business of some kind.
The registry for .biz is NeuLevel.biz (www.nic.biz), the first active .biz address. According to its Registration Restrictions (www.neulevel.biz/countdown/registrationRestrictions.html), a bona fide business use consists of one or more of the following:
1) to exchange goods, services, or property of any kind
2) in the ordinary course of trade or business
3) to facilitate (a) the exchange of goods, services, information, or property of any kind; or, (b) the ordinary course of trade or business.
One intent of the .biz restrictions is that cybersquatters will not be allowed to just sit on a domain name in the hopes of reselling it to the highest bidder. Nor will NeuLevel let .biz domains be used to only provide information, especially negative information, about a company. How these policies will be put into practice will be seen once more .biz domains go live.
.Name for Individuals
With .name, a new structure for domains is being used. The .name space is designed for individuals rather than organizations. As such, it requires two dots in a domain name rather than a minimum of one dot as is common in existing domain names. The domain style can be either firstname.lastname.name or lastname.firstname.name. So I could get greg.notess.name or notess.greg. name. Interestingly, email addresses in the .name space are not subject to the two dot rule and supposedly will be able to be in the firstname.lastname@example.org style. So I could be email@example.com.
The .name TLD is reserved for named individuals, including fictional characters. It will also allow further sublevels, so that Marian the Librarian could have both librarian.marian.paroo.name and music.marian.paroo.name. And for those names who have multiple people using them, the numbering scheme can be employed, as in john1955.smith.name.
The registry for .name is Global Name Registry, and its www.nic.name is the first live .name Web site. Others are scheduled to go live starting on December 13, 2001. How they will eventually handle single-name individuals remains to be seen.
.Pro for a Few
There are no .pro addresses live yet since RegistryPro (www.registrypro.com), the official .pro registry, has yet to finalize its contract with ICANN. Yet even when it does go live, the .pro domain is initially very limited to just three certified professional groups: lawyers, doctors, and accountants. The intent is to keep .pro exclusively for licensed professionals.
The domain structure will be similar to the .name ones in that it is designed to be multilevel with designators for the profession. One advantage to this scheme is that if there are three S. B. Smiths—one a doctor, one a lawyer, and one an accountant—they could each have their own .pro: sbsmith.med.pro, sbsmith.law.pro, sbsmith.cpa.pro.
Once .pro finally goes live, RegistryPro may expand availability to other certified professionals, but that will likely depend on how well the first three groups use the new TLD. One other use for the .pro top-level domain is that RegistryPro will also make it available to professional companies and associations who serve the included professions.
The other three not-quite-ready-for-prime-time TLDs are .aero, .coop, and .museum. Each of these is restricted to a specific group. The .aero sites are designed for the air transport industry, which seems like an awfully small group compared to the numbers that all the other TLDs serve. Despite its appearance, .coop is not for the poultry industry, but for cooperatives.
Of course, .museum is for museums and museum professionals. According to the Museum Domain Management Association (http://musedoma.org), the .museum domain will have at least three sections with the second level for location or discipline or generic terms. So we might see moma.art. museum or tate.london. museum. Individuals may use sbsmith.professional. museum.
BOTTOM LINE FOR TLDS
It has been a long, difficult road to bring new TLDs to the Internet. Many other TLD ideas have fallen by the wayside, but at last, a few of the new TLDs are beginning to show up on the Net. Some of the approved seven may never make it due to legal challenges, lack of interest, or insufficient funding.
the underlying debates, technical implementation, and legal wrangling should
have no effect on Internet users. When sites use the new TLDs, our Web
browsers should take us there without any difficulty. What we will find,
whether the new sites will offer quality information, and how many sites
will use the new TLDs remains to be seen. But be aware of the new top-level
domains, and let us all hope for increased information value along with
the increased number of top-level domains.
Domain Name URLs
ICANN's new TLD Program: www.icann.org/tlds
.info Registry: www.afilias.info
.biz Registry: www.neulevel.biz
.name Registry: www.nic.name
.pro Registry: www.registrypro.com
Greg R. Notess (firstname.lastname@example.org; www.notess.com/) is a reference librarian at Montana State University and founder of SearchEngineShowdown.com.
Comments? Email the editor at email@example.com.