.com gives way to .bike and .singles

There is about to be a huge land rush on the internet. Web registries -- companies and organizations that manage and market web addresses -- are unleashing approximately 1,500 new top-level domains, or TLDs, in the next eighteen months. The TLD is the set of letters to the right of the dot -- as in, .com, .org and .biz.

Now, get ready to add .singles, .guru, .bike, .plumbing, .ventures, .holdings and .clothing -- and that’s just this week’s crop. Addresses with those endings are being offered for sale starting today through venture-based domain-name registry Donuts, Inc., which is one of the biggest players in the new TLD space. Specific addresses will be marketed through registrars, such as Godaddy, 1&1.com and eNom, according to Donuts’ website (which gives this explanation of the firm’s name: "We are nuts about domain names. We are donuts.").

JoeBike is a bustling high-end store selling bicycles, accessories and riding gear in Portland, Oregon. The owner is Joe Doebele, and initially, he expressed skepticism that a new web address ending in .bike would do him much good.

“Immediately, who would be looking at .bike?” he asked. “I’m not going to invest in a destination that people don’t even know exists.”

Doebele’s current website is joe-bike.com -- which is pretty good from a marketing perspective. Dot-com addresses are the most popular on the internet, with more than 100 million registered, accounting for more than 75 percent of the total (which also includes .net, .org, .edu and other less popular extensions).

Within a few weeks of the initial launch of new top-level domains (during which prices for individual addresses can be set high by registrars selling them), individual web-addresses will settle at approximately $10 to $40 per year. Doebele thinks that would be affordable, making the url joebike.bike worth obtaining. If he did, he’d have a better chance of staking out his brand, and could use the new address to redirect to his current .com site, or to market to cycling aficionados -- if .bike ever catches on.

When a new TLD is first launched, though, prices can be high. Addresses in the .clothing TLD will start at $12,539.99 today, but decrease daily until they reach $39.99 on Feb. 5. Other hot TLDs with higher prices include .buzz and .luxury -- under which some addresses will cost several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars apiece.

By next year, there will be approximately 1,500 new TLDs, including in foreign scripts, and for major brands, such as .apple and .google.

Not everyone is convinced this vast expansion of internet domain names is worthwhile or wise for companies and organizations that depend on their current urls.

“I don’t think there’s a strong need for the additional extensions,” says Aaron Wall of SEO Book, an expert in search-engine optimization. “I just think it’s an easy way to build a high-margin business, if you’re the person that’s selling them and you’re good at marketing.”

Wall thinks many web-users will be confused by all the new endings, so they’ll keep clicking to the standard .com and .org addresses that they know and trust.

“There are going to be so many extensions at once, they’re all going to be competing for attention,” says Wall. “There are tons of names in .biz, .info; even .net and .org still have lots of great names available.” He cautions that small-business owners may be better off going after them, rather than the new untested TLDs.

Kieren McCarthy worked as general manager of public participation at ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the international nonprofit organization overseeing this massive internet expansion. He now follows internet policy at .nxt. McCarthy is convinced many of the new TLDs will catch on in the next few years, as kinks are worked out and the addresses get more familiar.

And he says these new, more specific TLDs will make it easier for people to connect to their communities and interests, and to find resources online.

“Basically now everyone still thinks .com is the internet or is the most important part of the internet, and from a purely logical, technical point of view, there’s no reason for that to be the case,” says McCarthy. “With all these new extensions, I think the internet will start reflecting our lives more closely.

“So if you run a bike shop or you’re just a bike fanatic you’ll say ‘well, I’ll get .bike’ rather than getting something .com. So it’s going to be a very, very different internet, where what comes after the dot simply reflects what goes on in life.”

McCarthy says new top-level-domains in foreign scripts like Cyrillic and Arabic will expand global use of the internet, and spread a wider sense of international ownership of the internet as well.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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