Radical Changes coming to the Web?

By | June 24, 2008

The Web as we all know it could be radically altered soon, by some proposals made by ICANN, the domain name regulatory board. According to proposals which are being discussed in Paris, and which the results will be made known after Thursday, we may all see major changes in the way we think of Web addresses in the near future. This has already been called the most major change to affect the Internet in the past few decades it has existed. If I’m not mistaken, I blogged on this last year, and now ICANN is keeping good its promise. But what a huge surprise, in that they basically allowed the extensions to be “public-submitted!”

What exactly this means, is that anyone with enough money and backing, can essentially register his own TLD and with that, you don’t just have .com/net/org/biz/info and so forth, but you are looking at unlimited TLD extensions. Anyone with $39,000 to $390,000 and enough backing can propose and create (almost) any domain name extension, it seems.

For example, we may have a .laptop extension created. So that means if you want a domain called www.MySite.laptop and it’s available, you can register it. Same goes for any extension that gets created and approved. In fact, some cities are lobbying for this, and planning on having their own “city” extension.

If my understanding is correct, this is going to result in many changes both good and bad. On the one hand, it means anyone can have any domain they like, but on the other hand, it results in a whole host of side effects which don’t look good to me. Here are my observations, though I might be wrong. Let’s take a look.

Firstly, this flood might spawn confusion and lower the overall perceived value of the Web among the public. Nothing is going to stick in the mind, simply because sites will get watered down in the public mind, and therefore, sites will find the going tough in order to differentiate themselves from each other. To state it simply, this will hurt repeat visitor value for everyone except the big dogs (the big Internet companies). I’m know I’m going to find it hard to remember what site I last visited, simply because there will be hundreds of extensions out there (and similar names). Since it will be so tough to weed through the morass of extensions (often with the same name, but different extension), surfers will soon find themselves even more dependent than ever on the search engines, and no guesses on who are the big winners here.

Secondly, this will lead to increased SEO competition many, many times more than what it is now, among websites and blogs. Many websites could pretty much fold up from the pressure. This sort of environment on the Web will make it more of an unforgiving jungle than what it already is. This could also spawn record level demand for blackhat SEO tactics due to the demanding environment, and phishing and trademark disputes on X number of domains will also increase manifold. How is this going to be for the average blogger or webmaster with limited resources? Let’s think ahead a little.

Thirdly, mass influx of new extensions may well be the death knell for the domain industry. The only domains worth any value will be some super, duper, popular, generic names, and even then, their value may decline. I’m not sure if this will end up strengthening the .com extension or diluting it; only time will tell, but nonetheless it could spell the end for the domaining industry because when you have hundreds or even thousands of extensions – supply will greatly exceed demand, and you get lots of new “premiums” which turn out to be not so “premium” after all. Johnny has a rare name, but hey, so does Bob over there, albeit with a different extension. Oops…. Domaining won’t be a viable industry anymore if domain values drop like ripe figs, and there will be many domainers who sank lots of money in domains, unable to recover them. Will it turn out this way?

Right now, there are 20 gTLDs and under 250 ccTLDs in existence, and I think the Web is coping just fine. But the question is how the addition of hundreds or thousands of new extensions would do to the current state of affairs. Whatever the outcome of ICANN’s proposals, it only goes to underline the ever changing nature of the Internet. There are speculations we could even be surfing from paid channels five years from now! Once again, the Web keeps changing (and will continue to change). Brace yourselves for the ride ahead, guys.

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