Heading for New Domains

Will seven new TLDs refertilize the barren fields of domain-name registration?
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This story appears in the March 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

With seven new top-level domains (TLDs) working their way into circulation--presumably to alleviate the congested .com space-business owners have to decide whether they want to register a new domain name. Until recently, your choices were limited to the .com, .net and .org suffixes. But last year, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)--the governing body that oversees the Internet's domain name system--approved a few new TLDs: .aero (for the air-transport industry), .biz (for businesses), .coop (for co-operatives), .info (for all uses), .museum (for museums), .name (for individuals) and .pro (for professionals such as doctors, lawyers and accountants). ICANN is now assigning the new TLDs in limited release during a "proof of concept" stage. In November of last year, it made available names registered with .biz and .info. Your company should be able to get a .pro domain name in the second quarter of this year; applications are currently being accepted.

There are more than
36 million
Web sites on the Internet.
SOURCE: Netcraft

But will the new TLDs really help the Web addressing problem? Opinions are mixed. On one hand, if you missed the opportunity to register the .com you wanted the first time around, now could be your chance. But on the other hand, who's to say these new TLDs won't become congested as well? And many attorneys, domain-name managers and e-business owners are now spending time and money to register URLs they won't necessarily use in order to defend themselves from online predators and competitors.

"I think the new TLDs are mainly a way for ICANN and the registries to make more money, rather than a decent solution to the problem of Web addressing," says Danny Sullivan, editor of the Darien, Connecticut-based newsletter SearchEngineWatch.com. "I think anyone with a .com domain will feel like they need to pick up .biz and .info names as well, so they won't help the problem they were supposed to solve, which is making new names available."

.Biz to the Rescue

Despite the controversy, the new TLDs have opened up opportunities for some. Case in point: eServ LLC, a Rock Island, Illinois, business founded in 1999 that provides product design, engineering support, consulting services and technical products to large and small companies. "Part of the reason we made the move to .biz is because the eserv.com name was already taken by a cybersquatter and put up for sale, and somebody wanted to pay a lot more for it than we did," says Timothy P. Baldwin, 33, co-founder and COO. "As a result, we ended up [with] eservllc.com."

Despite the fact that eservllc.com spells out the company's name, Baldwin says the Web address was a problem for him and his co-founders, James Richmord, 34, and Scott Miller, 32, because "everybody knows us as eServ, so most people would go to the eserv.com site looking for us. It was getting pretty tiresome having to spell out our Web site name and our e-mail address all the time." So they registered www.eserv.biz, which "clearly states who we are and how we are known in the marketplace," says Baldwin.

30 percent
of retailers surveyed say they handle customer service e-mails within six hours.
SOURCE: Jupiter Media Metrix

For now, the company will probably use their original site--eservllc.com--to point customers to the new .biz location, but at some point in the future, the eservllc.com URL will likely be phased out. EServ, which had sales of $17 million in 2001, has also signed up for a .info TLD, but Baldwin isn't sure how the company will use that site. He says EServ signed up for it as a preventive measure to frustrate any attempts from pesky cybersquatters.

In the event you already own the .com of your choice, you can still register the new TLDs and use those Web sites in innovative ways. For example, you could use the .com location as your main site and include your corporate information there, but then send customers to the .info site for product and support information. Or you might use the .com or .biz site for consumers, and the .info site for shareholders. Finally, some entrepreneurs might even register the name of their flagship product with the .biz or .info TLD and then use the corresponding sites as mechanisms within their branding or marketing efforts for those products.

Before You Register

The .biz and .info TLDs can only be registered through ICANN-accredited registrars, including Register.com and Verisign.com. For a list of accredited registrars, log on to InterNIC (www.internic.org/regist.html), a Web site set up by ICANN. TLDs are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis when it comes to trademarked company names.

The cost for registering new TLDs ranges from $10 to $60 per name per year, and the more expensive price usually includes some value-added Web services to go with the registration.

Before applying for a Web site with a new TLD, do a "Who Is" search on your registrar's Web site, or at www.internic.org, to see whether the name you want for your Web site is taken. If it isn't, you can sign up for the name on the spot.

If it's taken--and if you have a competing trademark or a trademark right on the name and believe a competitor is holding it to resell it to you at an inflated price--you can file a complaint. A common way to do this is through ICANN's Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy, which allows for court action or arbitration through organizations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization to resolve domain disputes. It's important, however, to work with a lawyer so you'll understand your rights.

Many trademarked names with the .biz and .info TLDs have already been taken by legitimate trademark holders. NeuLevel (www.neulevel.biz), the company selected by ICANN to be the exclusive operator of the .biz registry, and Afilias Limited (www.afilias.info), which was chosen as the exclusive operator of the .info registry, established procedures to allow trademark holders to assert their rights before registration opened to the general public.

However, there are still opportunities to buy new TLDs--whether you have a trademark or not. Last time we checked, only 700,000 .info names and 500,000 .biz names had been registered, compared to 22 million .com names. And though ICANN has no plans to release additional TLDs in the future, it hasn't ruled out the idea either.

Melissa Campanelli is a marketing and technology writer in Brooklyn, New York.

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