Let’s rethink ICANN, not TLDs

At a recent meeting in Paris, the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted unanimously to “relax” the rules about which top-level domains (TLD) can be created. In other words, the ICANN board decided the existing TLDs aren’t enough and that more should be created.

The current TLDs include .com, .org, .net, .gov, .mil and .edu; country TLDs such as .us, .uk, .tv, etc.; and newer bizarre additions such as .info, .coop, .museum, and .pro (that’s for “professions” as opposed to, well, whatever else you might have thought).

ICANN’s solution to bolster the TLD ranks is to allow any organization with US$150,000 to $500,000 (yes, you read that right) to register the TLD of their choosing. This means you’ll see TLDs such as .microsoft and .oracle, but .gibbs? Not a chance.

Let’s see, we’ve had 15 years of the current TLDs and the system works pretty well. Sure, there are problems but, here’s the thing, just having more of the same will compound those problems, not fix them. More TLDs that simply exist to cater to the wants of the rich while allowing registrars to make more money selling and managing them are not a good idea.

Let’s consider the most recently added domains that were introduced with such pomp and circumstance. Take the .museum TLD. When was the last time you entered a URL that ended in .museum? I’m guessing never. And what’s so great about the whole .museum TLD is it means nothing. It’s not solely a realm for real museums; the TLD is as commercialized as any other domain.

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For example, there’s “The Museum of the American Cocktail” — americancocktail.museum — that is sponsored by a flotilla of alcohol companies and which offers seminars in “mixology.” I’m all for any kind of museum, but let’s not pretend that this is a serious museum like, say, the Getty or the Louvre. And you know what? The .museum TLD is irrelevant to them anyway. For all practical purposes, “The Museum of the American Cocktail” uses a URL in the .org TLD.

So, ICANN let the world have the .museum TLD along with .mobi (for mobile devices), .tel (for communications services), and .job (for companies with jobs available rather than recruitment companies). In other words it allowed a completely random, eccentric and politically motivated set of choices.

And let’s not kid ourselves, politics already plays a huge role in ICANN’s decision-making. Consider its lame reasoning for not approving the .xxx TLD: the board didn’t want to be in the business of regulating content, as if all of the other new domains weren’t doing exactly that.

Moreover, have you heard any complaints from any organization about not being able to do business without being in the TLD .machinetools, .plastic or .anhydroussulfate? No, of course not. Even if there was a real demand for these custom TLDs why would the ICANN board or anyone with a clue think these should only be available to a select few with deep pockets?

My final argument against “relaxed” TLDs is the impact that this would have on consumers. Just think, if the financial industry adopted a .bank TLD, how confusing it would be for the average Joe. There would be a long period in which every phisher and other miscreant will have no end of fun trading on user ignorance and gullibility.

What this “relaxed” TLD nonsense shows is not only a serious disconnect on the part of ICANN from the realities of online business and commerce, but also demonstrates that it bows to those who drive the politics.

Just consider that ICANN’s explanation for the huge price of creating a custom TLD is it will cost ICANN $20 million to implement the “relaxed” TLD naming rules and the pricing is intended to recoup that expense. Doesn’t that rather argue for the whole idea being a bad one?

I don’t think it’s time to rethink TLDs. I think it’s time to rethink ICANN.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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