Will E-Commerce Connect the Dots?

In some ways, the Internet got a lot more elbow room last week when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) carved out seven new domain suffixes to go with dot-com (.com).

Is bigger better? For some, especially the corporations that want more virtual real estate. Apparently the hunger for space is as strong online as off.

But for Web users, who are bound to feel confused by the new additions, if not downright overwhelmed, bigger is not necessarily better. And that, by definition, makes ICANN’s actions bad for e-commerce.

Dot Overload

A fair number of people doubted that there needed to be more domains in the first place. ICANN’s own director called the shortage of dot-com names “artificial,” with a small number of common names being fought over while a vast pool of possible combinations go ignored.

Whether the new suffixes were needed or not, the path ICANN chose will only lead to further confusion. Why, for example, did ICANN accept “.pro” and “.museum” but ignore suggestions like “.kids” and “.xxx”? Two U.S. lawmakers began asking those types of questions before the ink was even dry on the ICANN decision.

Without a clear way to explain ICANN’s rationale, even the people charged with the potentially lucrative job of handing out the new domain names admit that it’s going to take a massive effort to teach people that “.com,” “.org,” and “.edu” aren’t the only game in Webtown any more.

Un-Learning Process

Dot-com isn’t just a Web address; it’s part of the popular lexicon. That didn’t happen by accident. And more importantly, it didn’t happen overnight. It took years of learning through doing, learning through experience.

The Web suffers from a lack of permanence and reliability. The dot-com you come to rely on for months suddenly vanishes one morning, a terse note left in its place. Even the entire act of getting — and staying — online is a challenge for the vast majority of Web users who still dial up their connections.

Amid all that uncertainty, finding the site you wanted had become a relatively comfortable endeavor. Commercial sites in any realm, from your doctor’s office to your online grocer, have been at dot-com.

Comfort Lost

But not for long. Users now face more than 10 major domains to hunt and peck and search through.

To complicate matters further, ICANN’s decision carries with it the expectation that there will be movement among the domains. Lawyers and doctors will want to congregate under “.pro,” right?

Alas, things are never that neat on the Web. For example, many museums are also non-profits — logically fitting into the existing “.org” category. And many are run by universities and belong at “.edu.” Who knows what category a museum will end up in?

Here, There, Everywhere

Ultimately, nothing prevents XYZ museum from holding all three of those domains. And that brings us to the fundamental flaw in the ICANN announcement.

How does encouraging a museum, corporation, or any other domain to scoop up multiple virtual plots of land satisfy the need for more room on the Web?

The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t. The ICANN plan makes it more likely that dot-coms will want to spread into the other domains, continuing the dominance of a few corporation and brand names rather than actually breaking down any barriers to bringing new people, places and things onto the Web.

In the final analysis, ICANN has done little to make the Web an easier, safer or more orderly place to conduct all the various types of business people already do. If anything, it messes the whole place all over again.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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