There was a time when, if your company didn’t have a .com at the end of its name, it was a sign of its rapidly on-setting demise. In the dot-com boom era, companies that had failed to “dot-com” were considered dinosaurs soon to be overthrown by young new upstarts with an attitude and a snazzy name.
In many cases, the names, each of them crowned with a .com, were considered enough to garner these upstarts the respect and dollars of investors and the praise of the media.
But a catchy domain proved to be an insufficient means by which to attain success, and the dot-com era went from boom to bust. And with its decline, the importance of the .com suffix might also be fading.
Canadian consumers and businesses, for example, appear to favour the .ca top level domain (TLD) over the once almost universally sought .com.
“Independent research indicates that Canadians would rather visit a .ca Web site,” said the Ottawa-based Gabriel Ahad, the communications director for the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), which oversees the .ca domain.
A survey of just over 1,000 Canadian Internet users by The Strategic Counsel found that 70 per cent of Canadians prefer shopping on .ca Web sites. The survey also found that 81 per cent agreed that Canadian businesses should have a .ca domain. Those users know that a .ca domain denotes a Canadian connection of some sort. Internet users also tend not to differentiate between .ca and .com when it comes to attributes such as technological advancement, trustworthiness, security with personal and financial information, and success, according to the study entitled “Canadian Internet User’s Attitudes Toward and Perceptions of the Dot-ca Domain.”
It appears that Canadian companies, once hampered by stringent rules, are catching on to the value of a made-in-Canada Web site.
“An increasing number of companies are making .ca their choice. Other companies are registering both .ca and .com,” Ahad said. The study found that respondents are five times more likely to prefer registering a .ca domain to .com. At just about $20 a year for a domain name, registering both makes sound business sense.
Since the rules for eligibility were eased – until the end of 2000, only federally incorporated companies were allowed to register .ca domains – Canadian companies have been taking advantage. From Dec. 1, 2000 to the present day, the number of .ca domains has jumped from an estimated 60,000 to about 275,000.
Ahad estimates that approximately 75 per cent of .ca domains are renewed each year, while only about 50 to 55 per cent of .com domains are renewed.
In fact, Q4 of last year marked the first time that the number of Web sites actually fell. The number of .com, .org and .net domains not renewed was greater than the number of new domains registered, according to a study by Netcraft Ltd. in Bath, England.
The decline in the number of Web sites comes just as a number of new options are finally being made available to organizations seeking a Web presence.
New real estate available
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a not-for-profit corporation that oversees the domain name and root server systems, recently released seven new top level domains. The .biz, .info, .pro .coop, .museum, .aero, and .name suffixes are designed to give organizations once vying for a limited number of .com addresses other options. Some, such as .museum and .aero are aimed at specific industries or groups – the former is targeted to museums and the latter is only available to players in the air transport industry.
This should mean that organizations in two completely different industries with similar names won’t have to compete for the same .com address. The problem is that the majority of Internet users aren’t aware of the other suffixes and are likely to go straight to acme.com, not realizing that acme.aero is where they’ll find the company they’re looking for.
But many feel that the seven new TLDs are not enough and that as a result, there is an artificial scarcity of good domains.
“If there are only three top level domains, it’s going to be more advantageous to have united.com than if there are 10 or 15,” said Sarah Andrews, research director for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington.
She is among those who believe that there should be as many top level domains as there are groups who want them.
“There are a lot who think that too many (new TLDs) were chosen,” counters ICANN’s president Stuart Lynn in Marina del Rey, Calif. “There are lots of people concerned about the increased trademark and cyber squatting issues that’ll be raised.”
But those who want more TLDs argue that if there are far more domains than currently available, it’ll render the precious few .com domains out there today uninteresting.
“I think creating more TLDs would do wonders to the issue of cyber squatting,” said Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa specializing in Internet law in Ottawa.
Working outside ICANN
One company, New.net, is sidestepping ICANN in order to offer organizations other TLDs.
“We started it (the business) because we perceived a shortage of good descriptive domain names,” said New.net CEO David Hernand of Sherman Oaks, Calif. “And it was a shortage that could be attributed not to a lack of demand but rather to an artificial scarcity that was created by a political process for creating new names that was broken. It didn’t work the way originally intended.”
Because the domains offered by New.net aren’t supported by the root system that ICANN administers, the company is seeking partnerships with ISPs in order to give Internet users access to its TLDs. Those users who don’t subscribe to an ISP that New.net is partnered with must download a plug-in. The slew of suffixes that New.net offers include .tech, .shop, .chat, .agent, .xxx, .kids, .law, .llp, .llc, .inc and .ltd.
Currently about 100 million users could potentially access domain names that New.net supports, according to Hernand.
He believes that reliance on .com is a somewhat American phenomenon. In other places, Internet users are already accustomed to country codes, he said, while admitting that consumers still need to be educated.
“With the introduction of new names like .biz, .info and country codes, it’s becoming less and less common where you can just assume .com is the way to go.”
He also believes that the drop in the number of Web sites at the end of last year was partly a result of the economic slowdown and a bad business model that has proven itself unsuccessful. A lot of companies that registered domains during the dot-com heyday have since gone out of business. During that time, some companies also gave away free domain name subscriptions in the false hope that users would pay for them when it came time for renewal, he said.
“If you were to take out the speculation and free name give aways, we’re confident that you’d see a growth (in the number of domain names),” Hernand said.
Earl Perkins, an analyst with The META Group in New Orleans wonders how useful the new names now available to Internet users will be.
“I think it’s ironic if you look at how the new (ICANN) names have been faring so far. This could probably have been a result of the general (economic) slowdown certainly, but as far as the uptake on it, it hasn’t been quite as vigourous as we had suspected. So if the perception is correct in the industry that we don’t have enough, then you would have thought that these would have been snapped up and already have run out. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. So I believe the perception in the industry is a little bit of an overkill.”
While ICANN believes there should be one Domain Name System root to look up what sites are available, Geist welcomes the alternative that New.net offers.
“Many people say, ideally, we’d like a single root. But it seems to me that an alternate root might be the only effective way to create some competition for ICANN such that it becomes more responsive to the concerns of Internet users and even start-up companies that are looking to embrace the potential of the Internet but are finding themselves locked out,” he said.
His criticism of ICANN doesn’t stop there. He believes that ICANN is hindering the participation of Internet users. While half the positions on ICANN’s board were supposed to be elected by Internet users around the globe, this never happened, and now Lynn wants to eliminate those positions and add five government positions. The proposal to eliminate direct participation by Internet users has earned Lynn a lot of criticism.
“ICANN is not designed to be an excercize in global democracy. We’re not a global government, we’re designed to get the work done,” Lynn said. ICANN is being hampered by process and can’t get anything done, he said, comparing it to Gulliver being surrounded by the Lilliputians.
But what Lynn says is a failed experiment, others say is an experiment that was never tried, since a total of nine board members were never actually elected by Internet users.
“Some of us would like to see ICANN do what it was set up to do originally. In other words, set up the kind of representational structure that would allow ordinary Internet users to become members and elect half of the board,” said Milton Mueller, an associate professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.
He and Geist both conducted separate studies of ICANN’s Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) and both found that UDRP seems to favour trademark holders.
The UDRP is designed to settle disputes between two organizations or people staking claim to the same domain name. But the complainant, generally a trademark holder, can decide which arbitration provider will hear the case, and they tend to choose providers that most frequently rule in favour of the trademark holder, a practice known as forum shopping.
“Two of the three largest providers at the time were getting about 95 per cent of the business and they were ruling in favour of complainants 80 per cent of the time. Whereas the third major provider was only doing so 60 per cent of the time,” Geist said of his findings.
When Mueller did his study, there were four arbitration providers, but the one that tended to rule most frequently in favour of defendants has since gone out of business, he said, “basically confirming our belief that the system selects for complainants.”
Canada will soon create its own dispute resolution system for the .ca domain, and Geist, who is on CIRA’s board and admits he’s biased, says it looks like it will be fairer than the UDRP.
“The way the process works, I think, makes it more clear-cut so that the domain name holders in particular will have an opportunity, if they can make their case, to be better assured that they will be able to keep their domain names.”
CIRA will also soon be holding elections for its board, which consists of 13 people, nine of which are elected by CIRA members – anyone who holds a .ca domain. One of the board members is an ex-officio, non-voting member representing the government and the other three represent the Internet user community, the commercial Internet community and CIRA’s certified domain name registrars.
CIRA will soon be holding elections over the Internet to select the nine members selected by .ca domain holders.
Who can hold a .ca domain
The requirements for registering a .ca domain were once stringent. But CIRA has since relaxed the rules for who can hold a .ca domain:
– Anyone meeting basic Canadian presence requirements
– Organizations and persons can register more than one .ca name
– Top level domains (xyz.ca) are available to anyone on a first-come first-served basis
– Generic domain names are accepted