After approval by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), it looks like Web sites will soon have seven more top-level domains to choose from: .biz, .name, .coop, .pro, .museum, .aero and .info. While tech pundits are hailing the change as a breakthrough, it's pretty clear to us that nobody with experience in creating workable taxonomies was in on this decision, and nobody considered whether the new domains would actually make life easier for people who use the Internet.
Like it or not, the domain name system is a taxonomy that helps organize information that's on the Internet. Any extension of a taxonomy should be based on sound classification principles. What we are seeing instead is a rush by organizations that wish to control specific top-level domains. None of the players seem to be concerned with how well the domains hang together as a whole. For example:
- What's the difference between the .com and .biz domains?
- Many museums today are registered under the .org domain. Where should the Internet user look now?
- Why a .aero but not a .rail or .auto?
- What on Earth should go into the marvelously unspecific .info domain?
One of the principles that should guide any extension of the domain name taxonomy is that it should actually help people find information. If the top-level domain taxonomy is to be extended, shouldn't it be done in a more comprehensive manner that applies consistent and well-defined criteria to each new domain?
The other issue we have is that the solution doesn't seem to solve one of the problems that it was intended to address: domain name disputes. We are likely to see Widgets Corporation, which now owns widgets.com, buying up the widgets.biz domain name as well, just to maintain its position. Or we'll see two widget companies owning the two domains and suing each other for trademark infringement (never mind that the poor Internet user will have no idea which company is which, anyway). Legal wrangling over domain names will only multiply, as the lawyers have more domains to fight over.
Finally, we can't help but note the marvelously unspecific ".info." It's as if information-related sites are shunted off to a corner and defined as "other." Having a domain on the information-packed Internet called ".info" is like having a section in your local Yellow Pages Directory called "companies" -- it is somewhat descriptive, but it doesn't necessarily help anyone find anything they need.
Each of the new domains is created and sponsored by companies that will own the registration process for that domain, after paying some hefty fees for a shot at winning the rights to registration fees in a specific domain. That's no way to run a classification system. We know the Internet is all about decentralization of information, but centralization gets a bad rap. Why is Yahoo! worth $27 billion today? Part of the reason is that two guys at Stanford decided that the decentralized Web needed a single, unified directory of sites so that people could find what they are looking for.
The proposed domain names don't solve the problems that the current domain name structure has created, and they only create new problems for the people using the Internet. If we are going to add more top-level domains, let ICANN consult a few librarians on some basic principles of classification before we muddy the waters unnecessarily.
David Curle is director and lead analyst at information industry research and advisory firm Outsell, Inc. �He conducts client research, manages custom projects, and provides advice about content software technologies, general aggregators, and deployment of filtered news services and legal content sources, and also serves as the editor of e-briefs, Outsell's weekly electronic newsletter.