Cyberclinic: A sale of web domain endings spells .trouble
Thursday 17 February 2011
The internet is responsible for a mass of words and phrases entering the lexicon. There's the verb "to friend", along with all its associated conjugations. There's the noun "webinar", one which has the capacity to trigger apoplexy in even the most mild-mannered office worker. But one of the most omnipresent has to be "dotcom". The .com domain was coined during a series of rather dry meetings in the USA back in October 1984; a time when only the most prescient of daydreamers could have imagined ".com" appended to the name of every major company in the world to create the commercial web as we know it.
Today, .com establishes a certain credibility in a way that its feeble cousins such as .name, .biz or .info certainly don't; if you see an individual or organisation with, say, a .net website, you just naturally assume that they didn't have the foresight, clout or cash to be able to get hold of the .com. But it's hard to get hold of .com domains these days. Nearly every word you can think of will have had its associated .com snapped up by some enterprising soul a long time ago; instead people have started to use their imaginations and turned to the range of 250-plus country domains such as Montenegro's .me, or Tuvalu's sought-after .tv.
But why does it have to be so limited? Why can't the powers that be – in this case ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – just enable a dot-everything free-for-all where .egg, .lozenge and .rhodri can become a glorious new reality? Well, ICANN have been pondering this for some five or six years; the idea of a new-look web where URLs are limited only by your imagination. Or, rather, the imaginations of those who can afford to buy them. An "Applicant's Guidebook" for companies interested in spending $185,000 on a .com alternative (also known as a generic top-level domain, or gTLD) was on the verge of being published this month, but it has just been postponed again until later this year. Not because a load of new gTLDs present any technical problems, but more because there are worries about who should be allowed to own these things.
How to avoid unscrupulous types getting hold of a gTLD, and then proceeding to hold various companies and individuals to ransom? Imagine that an organisation forks out for, say, .sport or .music. Brands, groups and individuals will suddenly feel obliged to register with and pay them for domains like slazenger.sport or hmv.music, regardless of whether they need them or not. And so accusations start to fly that these new domains are pointless, and simply a license to print money.
There's certainly substantial interest in their money-making capabilities: two organisations are already at loggerheads over the potential ownership of .vegas after being "promised" them by two different branches of local government in Nevada. Then you have the US government who, having divested itself of the domain name business a few years ago in the belief that government should keep its nose out, is now lobbying for national governments to have vetoes over any new gTLDs. Anyway, these problems will be ironed out and we will see more variety in our address bars in the months to come – but it's hard to imagine much dilution of the power of .com.
Last week I had to teach someone a guitar part (long story) and, rather than write it down, I thought the best way would be to film myself playing. The ability of phones to create video is fantastic, but if you're alone you find yourself balancing the phone on a pile of books in a vague attempt to get yourself in shot. And you're prohibited from moving about because the phone's only going to point in one direction. But wait! To the rescue comes a prototype of a device called Satarii: it's a dock for your phone with a base that swivels and pivots to follow the movement of a small "marker". Pop the marker in your pocket, Satarii tracks your movements and keeps you in shot. Enough people have recognised the brilliance of this concept to raise $25,000 on crowdfunding site IndieGoGo for its development; amateur cameramen are reported to be "concerned".
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