Companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, Australia Post and the Commonwealth Bank are currently competing for a new round of top-level domains -- think new versions of
.app. The argument is that this will make the internet easier to use, but we think it's a bit sketchier than those involved would like to admit. Here's why.
What Is A Top-Level Domain?
A top-level domain is the last part of a URL, often something like
.org. It's at the top of the domain hierarchy (hence the term "top-level"), and is the first thing your computer looks for when you type in a web address. When you type in
lifehacker.com.au, for example, your browser asks your DNS server where it can find the
.com nameserver. Your browser then contacts the
.com.au nameserver for the
lifehacker subdomain, where it finds this web site. You can see an example of this below, courtesy of Wikipedia.
These domain names are all managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), formerly a government organisation but now a private, non-profit entity. ICANN not only manages which top-level domains exist, but also makes sure everything is stable and runs smoothly.
ICANN Is Handing Out New Top-Level Domains, Lottery-Style
A few years ago, ICANN began expanding the number of top-level domains, so porn sites, for example, could use the
.xxx domain. Recently, though, it opened this process up so companies can create and apply for custom top-level domains. For example, Google wants to claim
.blog, so all blogs created by its Blogger service would have an easy-to-remember
.blog domain name. Google also wants
.search for obvious reasons, while Amazon wants to claim
.cloud. Allowed domains can range from brands (like
.gmail) to generic words (
.fun) and geographic locations (
Not all top-level domains will be exclusive, but when a company applies for one, it can choose to make that TLD exclusive to its own pages, as Google hopes to do with
.blog. Many of these companies have applied for hundreds of top-level domains, are willing to pay millions of dollars for them, and are preparing for battles over who gets what -- both Google and Amazon are currently fighting over
.cloud, for example, and you can bet
.app will be subject to fierce competition.
Why The Domain Lottery Is Sketchy
As you can imagine, some people think this lottery is a little ridiculous, and we tend to agree. It might seem innocent enough to give Amazon ownership of the
.kindle domain, since the Kindle is its product, but you can easily see how things get more complex when Amazon asking for an exclusive claim to the
.book domain, or Google the
This potentially opens the door for a lot of unfair treatment. It wouldn't be out of character for Google to float
.blog sites to the top of search results, or for the company which owns the
.news domain could give preferential treatment to sites that share its political biases. It could easily up being a huge, confusing, and sometimes misleading mess -- and the only ones who benefit are the companies and ICANN, which, despite being a nonprofit, stands to make a lot of money from this endeavour. Photo by MoneyBlogNewz.
These controversial domain applications are still being review, but ICANN has yet to say or do anything that would lead us to believe they won't be accepted. All we can do now is wait and see. What do you think about the new generic top-level domains? Will they make the internet easier to use, or are they only going to benefit companies and confuse users? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. And, if you're interested in reading more, here are some other articles on the subject:
- Generic Top-Level Domain [Wikipedia]
- Banks lead Aussie domain push [iTnews]
- .blog, .lol, .foo: Google, Amazon Top List of Global TLD Applications [Ars Technica]
- Amazon's Domain Power Play: We Want to Control Them All [CNET]
- New Internet Domain Names May Make for a More Tangled Web [Washington Post]
- Should Gooogle and Amazon Be Allowed to Control Domains? [GigaOM]