Much talk has been had about the new ‘top level’ domains that were approved by ICANN today in Paris. This ruling will allow companies, groups, and individuals to petition ICANN to create new “Vanity TLDs,” (term coined by David Castello) which in my opinion will end up creating considerable confusion among consumers and huge costs to companies who need to protect their trademarks. This is good news for people who have been working to pass this in an effort to launch new extensions (renewal fees), and it is also good news for .com owners, as the more extensions are created, the more consumers will navigate back to the familiar .com.
Over the past few years, many new extensions have been created – some of which I hadn’t heard of until reading up on this. Included in the list of “newer” but obviously less-used include .pro, .biz, .travel, .mobi, .asia, .jobs, .museum…etc. The entire list of current TLD can be found on ICANN’s website. In terms of usage by consumers, I don’t think there are any websites with these extensions currently in the top 20,000 websites according to Alexa (correct me if I am wrong).
With all the .com branding that’s been done by companies telling consumers to visit their .com website, I highly doubt many will jump at the opportunity to spend upwards of $100,000 to apply for a corporate Vanity TLD (vTLD), and then spend millions of dollars convincing consumers to use it. Sure, some will try it, but if nothing else, it will probably end up watering down their brand and confuse consumers.
Although ICANN is supposedly prohibiting TM-related extensions except for companies that own the TM, companies like Amazon and Apple are almost forced to spend the $100,000 application fee since one could argue that their company name is generic and not protected. Since ICANN plans to auction Vanity TLDs that have multiple bidders, Apple could conceivable pay much more to get .apple so Apple Bank or an apple grower can’t take it.
Here is an example of why using Vanity TLD will pose a problem for companies and even non-trademark related uses. Let’s use Ebay for a second. Sure, it would be cool if they had Art.Ebay, Autographs.Ebay, SportsMemorabilia.Ebay…etc. Great, right? Well, what happens when consumers confusingly type in SportsMemorabiliaEbay.com by mistake? This is going to create hundreds of thousands of additional typos, which will most certainly be grabbed by cybersquatters. While this sucks for Ebay, they are going to have to spend millions of dollars going after these cybersquatters to avoid the traffic run-off. Same thing with any other Vanity TLD. People will assume its .com.
The .com has worked for many years, and it won’t be negatively impacted. These new Vanity TLD will give people the opportunity to buy strong keywords in various extensions, but it won’t likely change web browsing habits. Companies who want to be serious will still use .com, and the values will increase as more people come online.