Amazon, Google, L'Oréal and Gucci have applied for basic Internet domain names like
.beauty. In some cases, they don't intend to share. Unless you use Google's Blogger service, for instance, you won't be able to get
your-name.blog. Google aims to own that domain and every address in it.
Prime Internet Real Estate
Internet domain names are controlled by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. This U.S. company gets to decide which unique, top-level addresses (like
.org) will take you somewhere when you type them into your browser. And it can invent new ones and sell them to whomever it wants. Last year, it decided to do so to the tune of $185,000 a pop.
ICANN's monopoly limits the market for generic top-level domains (gTLDs, in the unwieldy acronym) to a rarefied crowd. While some of these top-level domains went to registrars that let anyone use them, much of the prime real estate will go to companies that plan to use them to boost their businesses.
Tech Titans Stake Claims
Google and Amazon are making big land grabs. Google applied for 101 new domains, Amazon for 76. Many of them are brands owned by those companies, and that's understandable. Google should be allowed to own
Tellingly, as reported by Paul Sloan at CNET, Google and Amazon have applied for around 20 of the same domains (depending on how you count similar ones like
.kids), and they're rather important ones. Both Amazon and Google want
.you and more.
These conflicts will be worked out behind closed doors, but one way or another, a single giant tech company will own invaluable Internet property that its competitors want, to say nothing of private individuals or small businesses.
Some words fall into a gray area. Google has an application called Google Earth. Does that mean it should own
Google's application for the
.earth domain makes for a revealing example. The applicant is listed as Charleston Road Registry Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Google. It contains no mention of the product Google Earth. Rather, Google says it wants to use
.earth to "provide a dedicated domain space in which registrants can enact second-level domains that extend the amount of information available on the Internet about Earth." Google wants to dispense domains for campaigns like "
helpthe.earth," according to its application to ICANN.
Similarly, Amazon's application for
.book says its proposed ".BOOK registry will be run in line with current industry standards of good registry practice." If that means it's open to the public for registration, there's no harm there.
But not all applications for generic top-level domains are so innocuous. As Dave Winer, one of the pioneers of blogging itself, has pointed out, Google's application for
.blog makes clear how the company intends to use it:
"The purpose of the proposed gTLD, .blog, is to provide a dedicated Internet space where Google can continue to innovate on its Blogger offerings... The mission of the proposed gTLD is to simplify the Blogger user experience. Users will be able to publish content on a unique .blog domain (e.g., myname.blog) which will serve as a short and memorable URL for a particular Blogger account."
If you want
your-name.blog for your WordPress blog, you're out of luck.
A Beautiful Domain
As noted in a comprehensive post by Michele Neylon, tech is far from the only industry implicated here. L'Oréal has applied for
.beauty. Unlike Google and
.earth, L'Oréal gave special attention to its own products and "select licensees and partners" before saying it would "evaluate expanding the operations of the .BEAUTY gTLD" to outside registrants.
While taking pains to avoid saying that L'Oréal wants to own the Internet's concept of
.beauty, the company's application makes clear that it wants to control the namespace. If you run a beauty parlor and want the coolest website address on the block, don't hold your breath for the chance to register
Naming locations in the Internet's expanding universe is a tricky problem. For now, domain names are the most important way for people to remember and access sites and apps on the Web. We don't want to be confined to
.com forever, since we can theoretically have whatever kinds of memorable names we want. But creating new TLDs can have nasty side effects.
When ICM Registry opened up the
.xxx domain for registrations, businesses large and small complained of a "shakedown." Companies felt they shouldn't have to register
their-name.xxx just to protect themselves from bad publicity.
And now we have the opposite problem, in which big companies are buying up valuable domains and refusing to let competitors or even users register their addresses there. Some of the big ones, like
.book, will be opened for public registrations, but they'll still be under the control of companies with a vested interest in boxing out competitors.
And with others, like
.search, the business opportunities for the applicants are just too great to open up the domains to competitors. Google would have a whale of an antitrust case on its hands if it privileged
.blog sites over WordPress blogs in search results. But the next most important index for website addresses is in people's memories. That's where these companies want their expensive, new top-level domains to stick.