Incredible as it may seem now, the World Wide Web was launched in 1991 with a very limited selection of top level domains. Other than country code TLDs like .uk and .fr, launching a website involved selecting from just a handful of generic TLDs, including .com and .org.
As the internet caught on and websites were launched at a dizzying pace, generic top level domains became increasingly hard to acquire. In 1998, a non-profit body called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) was founded to regulate a chaotic industry synonymous with spiralling costs and cybersquatting. One of ICANN’s key decisions involved expanding the variety of generic domains on offer. It started by introducing five generic TLDS in 2001, including .biz and .name.
Since 2014, ICANN has launched hundreds of new generic top level domains into the marketplace, taking the total number of available gTLDs into four figures. Last year heralded the arrival of successful domains including .africa and .eco, as well as less popular gTLDs like .creditunion and .fun. So what can we expect from top level domains in 2018, and could any of them repeat the success of 2001’s .info or 2014’s .club?
The biggest top level domains of 2018
Each new top level domain goes through a phased launch, concluding with general availability when anyone can purchase a website with this TLD. As chatbots move into our homes – such as Alexa and Cortana for example – and bots replace apps on our phones, there is likely to be considerable demand for the .bot TLD scheduled for general availability in November. Indeed, compared to more niche TLDs like .rugby, .bot could be the breakout star among top level domains in 2018.
Having been in development for a remarkable four years, .bank is scheduled for general availability later this year. If you’ve already read about the .bank suffix, it’s because pre-GA launch stages include a ‘sunrise’ period where trademark holders can register a web address to prevent cybersquatting. Although barclays.bank has almost certainly been registered already, there’s currently nothing to view at that domain address.
One gTLD which may prove significant this year is .radio, which has enjoyed an unexpected renaissance thanks to the popularity of digital music stations. Some observers predicted a few years ago that music streaming services would kill off conventional broadcasting. Yet 90% of UK adults still listen to a radio station on a weekly basis, and streaming radio services are more popular than ever. Given the number of companies competing for audience share, it’s easy to imagine .radio quickly becoming a familiar suffix on broadcasters’ web addresses.
Proprietary top level domains in 2018
Industry analysts will have noted domains like .kpmg entering the marketplace last year. While employees of the world’s third-largest accountancy firm were undoubtedly delighted by this, .kpmg is an irrelevance for everyone else. Even so, September has been proposed as the date for the next round of stakeholder applications, following an inaugural batch of proprietary TLDs in 2012. Even though three quarters of these TLDs haven’t been used on a single website, pent-up demand (and income streams) from companies wanting their own top level domain might prove persuasive.
That’s of little interest if you run a small business, but larger firms looking to set themselves apart in the congested .com and .co.uk marketplace might wish to consider applying for their own gTLD. Before doing so, they should evaluate the likelihood of lost consumer confidence as a result of adopting an unknown and unfamiliar domain address. Search engines don’t discriminate against unusual or fringe TLDs, but consumers often do…