Joe Alagna on "Meeting Growing Demands of Domain Name Space"

Joe Alagna is CentralNic's General Manager for North America. Originally published on CircleID.

Best Use of the Third-Level Domain Name Space

The Internet was originally envisioned to be hierarchical in nature. The Domain Name System came into being out of a need for easy-to-remember network addresses. Over the years and as the Internet has become more mainstream it became evident that,

  1. It was becoming more difficult to acquire those easy-to-remember network addresses (Domain Names) and
  2. Users wanted more choices in domain names.

Thus began an Industry debate about how to grow the domain space. The end result was the creation of several new gTLDs (Generic Top Level Domains) like .INFO and .BIZ, and sTLDs (Sponsored Top Level Domains) like .PRO and .COOP.

Although benefits have come out of the creation of the new TLDs, a simple, obvious, important, existing solution is largely being overlooked by the domain name industry; existing third level domain spaces.

Offering Third-Level Domains is good for the Industry and Less Confusing for the Public

There are a few private registries that offer third-level domain names to the general public today:

CentralNic, Ltd. (The largest and the company that I work for) - Offers third-level domains from a network of 20 second-level domain names, most of which are country-specific, two-letter, .COM domains. Examples are "US.COM", "UK.COM", "EU.COM", "RU.COM", AND "CN.COM".

Net Registry Pty. Ltd. - Offers third-level domains from "JP.COM", and "AU.COM"

Since CentralNic offers domains through a network of registrars and resellers like eNom and Dotster, we are in the unique position of seeing first hand that end users like to buy third level domain names, but not just any third level domains:

  1. They like domains that they inherently understand and relate to. No explanation is necessary to understand the meaning of "US", "UK", or "EU" to an end user. It is inherently understandable to an end user due to its ubiquity.
  2. They like domain names that end with .COM. No explanation is necessary to understand what .COM means. It is inherently understandable to an end user due to its ubiquity.

The point is this... The practice of offering easy-to-understand, third-level domains to end users is good for the domain name industry, good for registrants, and good for end users (web site visitors). The practice should be encouraged by ICANN and the domain name industry in general.

Some have made this argument: "What would happen to all the registrants if the company offering third-level domains decided to sell their domain names?

This can be answered with another very simple question: "What would happen to all the e-mail users if AOL, Earthlink, or NetZero decided to sell their domain names?

Companies, regardless of their size, have a right to sell services under their domain names, whether those services are e-mail addresses or sub-domains. Thousands of ISPs sell e-mail addresses that depend on the domain name of the ISP as part of their offer. There is nothing new about this.

So What Is The Highest And Best Use Of A Domain Name Like "US.COM" Or "UK.COM"?

Would it serve more people and benefit the domain name industry if these domains were used as an easy-to-remember moniker for a single large US based insurance company?

Or does it benefit the domain name industry and the buying public if they are offered as Gtlds (Generic third-level domains - Note the lower case "t").

The answer is that these types of domain names are an invaluable resource to the domain name industry and the industry should encourage the use of them as much as possible.

What is the Best Way to Meet the Growing Demands on the Name Space?

Creating special new Sponsored TLDs may not the best course for our industry. The use and promotion of a domain as an accrediting device or to convey some status to the general public is a bad idea and creates somewhat of a domain name class jealousy where only the most connected, technically savvy, domain name registrants will end up with the most desirable new domains. The industry ends up in the same cycle of looking for ways to grow the domain space because average registrants can't find easy-to-remember domains.

For example in creating .jobs and .travel, and allowing only "accredited HR professionals" or "accredited travel agents", to register them, are we trying to say that holders of these new sTLDs are more reputable than holders of the .COM versions of the same?

This is a system that is inherently false to end users since we know that there is no real way to enforce the "quality" of a registrant. It is also unfair to holders of .COM, .NET, .ORG, and .etc. domain names.

To attempt to convey that a .job or .travel domain name holder is any more qualified or professional than the holder of another TLD domain name like .COM, .NET, or .INFO, .ORG, or .BIZ. is bad for the industry.

Ultimately, any statement of qualification for domain name holders by the industry or some trade group will be proven to be false and misleading to end users (web site visitors) since it is ultimately unenforceable. We should have already learned that from existing Sponsored TLDs that financial and market forces will ultimately create a need for loosening of the "qualifications".

The Principle of Highest and Best Use

Analogies are often made of the Domain Name Space as being virtual real estate so I'd like to quote the National Association of Realtor's definition of "Highest and Best Use":

"A determination of the highest and best use of one or more sites (either vacant or as though vacant) or properties as improved by examining the profitability of all possible use scenarios (including renovation, rehabilitation, demolition, and replacement)."

For the purpose of this argument we must face the reality that domain names have become the virtual equivalent to real estate. They have many similar properties that include traffic, desirability, and utility.

The highest and best use for many second-level domain names is to offer the third-level domain space to registrants. It benefits the widest possible audience, increases the usable domain space in a practical way, and mostly, benefits the domain name industry. ICANN and the domain registrar community should strongly support and encourage this use of the third-level domain name space.