What do the words mail, love, cloud, and news have in common? They each have seven different entities proposing their use as the suffix to an Internet URL address. In the biggest expansion since the 1980s, suffix options are increasing from the current 22—which include .com, .org, and .edu—to up to 1,000 suffixes that could be added in 2013 (including .mail, .love, .cloud, and .news). The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit in charge of the applications for these top-level domain names, or TLDs, released the list of over 1,900 applications for new suffixes on Wednesday.
How this could affect the Internet, broadly, and the news industry, specifically, still remains to be seen. Many companies have applied for their own brand names, and this includes media organizations, such as AOL for .aol and .patch, Sky News for .sky, and The Guardian for .guardianmedia, .grd, .observer and .guardian (Guardian Life insurance is also vying for .guardian). This move has been largely interpreted as a way for a company to protect their brand name from being acquired by someone else.
Others applications are for much broader terms, like some of these newsy-sounding names: .media (three applications), .blog (nine applications), .now (six applications), and .radio (four applications, including the European Broadcasting Union).
There is some skepticism over how powerful these suffixes could actually be. URL names are losing their significance, since most people use search engines to get themselves to a site, and apps are increasingly used instead of browsers. Adam Strong, an industry expert and writer for Domain Name News, says that he is skeptical that the generic suffixes will be something that many news companies are willing to pay to use, drawing comparisons to the domain-name buys from the 1990s. “CNET grabbed news.com before anyone, but does that mean they dominate the news? No,” says Strong.
Most of the requests on the list came from domain-name companies, in the hopes that these URL-endings will become a hot commodity. Some companies have filed hundreds of applications, like Donuts Inc., which has applied for .news, .blog, and .media, amongst their over 300 applications.
Companies had to explain in their applications why they should be granted their suffix of choice, and Strong points out the possibility that organizations could be turned down for their generic requests. For example, Walmart applied for .grocery, as did Safeway. “Why one should get it over the other isn’t clear,” says Strong. But he says he sees how the suffixes could be useful for some companies. “I could see .nfl working because it has consistency, it helps a brand control their market better, and it helps them organize sites for the different teams,” such as jets.nfl or yankees.mlb.
One of the more interesting moves by a media company came from the Boston Globe, whose application for .boston could result in a new revenue stream for the Globe, as Nieman Lab’s Justin Ellis reported:
[I]t would have the ability to sell domain names like (say) niemanlab.boston or redsox.boston. In its application, it says it would reserve certain addresses like (police.boston, mayor.boston, visit.boston) for the city and offer “a reduced rate” to community groups. (No details on pricing.)
There isn’t any competition for .boston (no other entities applied), and the Globe got permission from the city for this push, since it’s a geographic location. The Globe’s vice president of digital products told Nieman Lab, “We’re really trying to think about ways we can make this .boston domain something that is good for the community, good for business, and really organize the local Web in a new way.”
While the Globe is the only newspaper to apply for a geographic domain name, China’s Xinhua News Agency’s Guangdong branch applied for the Chinese-language suffix of .guangdong.
Applying for these suffixes is a big investment—$185,000, with no guarantees of the application being accepted, so it remains yet to be seen if this will work out to money well spent by companies. If approved, each suffix will cost about $25,000 per year to maintain. This has drawn criticism that this domain-name land grab isn’t inclusive enough, given the price tag, and is also making ICANN, a nonprofit, a whole lot of money. ICANN has received about $357 million in application fees. The proposals will be open to public comment for the next two months.