We’ve come a long way from the days when every web address worth typing into your browser ended with a .com top-level domain. Since the early Noughties, the body responsible for overseeing domains (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN) has approved over 1,300 different TLDs, from proprietary domains to speculative ones. Yet some have been more successful than others…
Now that the flood of new TLDs has slowed to a trickle, it’s possible to evaluate whether ICANN’s decision to saturate the domain market has been a success. And in many cases, it hasn’t. The internet is awash with TLDs that failed to take off for various reasons. These include poor or non-existent marketing, associations with malware, or simple consumer confusion. Who knows what the companies who fought to launch the .boo, .goo or .ping TLDs were hoping to achieve?
These three domains all share one thing in common: they have been used to register a grand total of two websites. The same is true of the .rocher TLD, which (perhaps inevitably) belongs to Ferrero Trading. Indeed, many failed TLDs were registered on behalf of brands – there are currently two .beats domains in existence, two .hyundai websites and two .virgin platforms. And yet these failed TLDs are still more popular than the 335 domains which have been used just once…
The fact that over 25 per cent of all generic TLDs have only been used for just one website raises questions about how this situation arose. Either ICANN was too liberal when approving new gTLDs, or the companies who applied for specific TLDs were overly naïve. Impartial observers would certainly have expected to see more than one website with the .book TLD being launched, especially as it was registered by Amazon. The failure of .play and .like to gain any traction is equally baffling – both were registered by blue-chip organisations who know their way around the internet.
In many cases, brands clearly lobbied to register domains which they subsequently failed to capitalise on. The .nextdirect domain was only going to be of use to one retailer, and the same is true of .ladbrokes. Only LEGO, Nike and Samsung can explain the complete absence of domains with their name in – all three companies still have their primary global domain pointing to a .com TLD, with British consumers directed to a .com/uk sub-site. Other global firms – Nikon, Visa, Calvin Klein – retain dedicated co.uk websites long after acquiring proprietary TLDs. Yet every firm in this paragraph applied for, lobbied for and paid for a TLD which has been used to register just one website.
Tough decisions ahead
The profusion of failed TLDs has created problems for ICANN, not least because some TLDs are clearly now disreputable. Research suggests 99.95 per cent of .country websites contain spyware, popup infestations or redirects to sites with harmful intentions. Websites at the .cm domain (easily mistyped if you miss out the middle letter of a .com URL) are particularly unwholesome. It’s easy to see what malware-infested sites at aol.cm, costco.cm and facebook.cm are attempting to achieve.
Twenty years after its creation, ICANN has some tough decisions to make about whether to kill off failed TLDs. It also needs to take tougher action against serial spammers and scammers, rather than leaving it to search engines to blacklist domains ending in .club and .gq. Hopefully, the coming decade will see a more proactive approach to resolving the swathes of failed top-level domains.