June 14, 2012 | 18 comments

Amazon has bid for .book and .author. Google has bid for .app and .love. Microsoft has bid for .docs and .live. American Express has bid for .open.

Opening the top-level domain system is a great idea. There are just 22 generic top-level domains right now – .com, .org, .net and so on. (There are 280 country-related TLDs, like .us and .uk.) Because digital real estate has been so limited, the price of valuable words has skyrocketed, and domain name squatting – where a name is registered purely to sell on at a higher price – is rife. If you’ve ever seen a web company with a silly, misspelled name, you’ve seen a company that’s decided not to give squatters any cash. (A company I was once part of paid a squatter over $10,000 for a .com domain, but they can go for much more.) Removing the limitation on TLDs theoretically removes the domain name availability crunch and would take the bottom out of the squatting market. Good.

Unfortunately, ICANN has both decided to allow anyone to apply for any TLD, and simultaneously to limit the market.

Let’s say that Amazon are successful in their bids for .book and .author. They will subsequently get absolute control over who can have a .book or a .author domain. So for example, if I want benwerdmuller.author, it would be completely legitimate for them to only allow me to have it if I’m an Amazon self-published author selling through the Kindle store. Similarly, they could block non-Amazon books from having a .book address. The point isn’t that they will do this – how they’ll act remains to be seen – but that it’s possible. By failing to regulate usage, ICANN have left the door open for companies to have a monopoly on certain thematic addresses on the web.

In turn, it’s a closed, controlled process rather than a market. If Amazon wins .book, it will be because they put up the money, but it will also be because ICANN decided they should have it. There’s no indication that further generic TLDs will be introduced in the future, or that the process will be widened out. If I, as an individual, had put up the $185,000 necessary to bid for .open or .social (two real bids) or .source or .abuse (two TLDs left unbid for), would I have had an equal chance as the corporations? It’s impossible to say. However, nobody will be able to compete with these TLDs, because the process is now closed.

There’s 60 days to comment on the domain names, and then another seven months to raise objections to domain name allocations. I see no issue with company-specific domains like .microsoft or even .apple and .amazon (two more ambiguous names), but why should Amazon get to control books, or Google get to control love? This seems to contradict the spirit with which domains have been allocated in the past. I’d suggest we all make our opinions known.