Identity just got more complicated. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has decided to open up top-level domains to most any suffix we can imagine — from .com, .net, .org, .co.uk, etc. to .anything. So there will be an explosion in what we nerdily called the internet namespace.

On the one hand, this means we don’t have to all fight and scrape to grab any brand followed by a .com. But it also means there’ll be a land rush to create and sell every possible combination of words — amazon.store, amazon.book, amazon.everything (and Amazon will be faced with having to buy them all to protect its brand).
We users trying to find things could end up with an exponential rise in confusion as we try to remember more combinations of names: Where is that guy who drones on about media — jarvis.com, jarvis.pundit, jarvis.blather, jarvis.blahblahblah?

Who could win in this? Who always wins these days: Google, of course. I know many people who never bother to type in internet addresses; they find it quicker to just enter a Google search and click from there. All roads lead from Google.

Well, with more confusion in names, we’ll all end up having to search Google more often. That makes search-engine optimization even more critical as sites strive to make sure they are on the top page of search results for any relevant term. I, for example, am proud to be the seventh “jeff” on Google and I’m plotting ways to eliminate the other six. I believe that companies and brands will soon be valued not just on their cash flow and EBITDA but also on their Googlejuice.

The real limitation in namespace has been language. We have taken just about every word and pronounceable syllable in every tongue and already glued them together and tacked them onto a .com. That is why new web 2.0 companies inevitably end up with silly, made-up names these days: Dopplr, Zivity, Flickr. The internet has been killing vowels, syllables, and spaces in our languages. So it would stand to reason that this need no longer happen: Flicker.com can live peaceably beside Flicker.photo, Flicker.snapshots, even Flicker.yahoo.

But no. The truth is that when we depend on search, we will depend more heavily on unique names so those names don’t get lost in searches for common — commodity — words. So we’ll still mangle the language to create names.

Indeed, I predict that we’ll do this not just for our companies but also for our kids. For everybody needs a little SEO these days. If the internet had been around when my children were born, I shouldn’t have given them common names — Jake and Julia — but would have followed legendary rebel-rocker Frank Zappa’s example — he named his children Dwezil and Moon Unit. That way, there’d be no fight over owning DwezilJarvis.com and anyone searching for Dwezils would, I hope, find my offspring at least second on the list. Yes, in world where unique names are valued, Icelanders are screwed.

In the early days of telephones, it was assumed that we’d be bad at remembering numbers, so phone companies in some countries used words to help us recall the first few digits. KNickerbocker 5 500 became 565 500. That quaint system was dropped as phones stopped having letters printed on them and as phone numbers exploded to absurd lengths with the number of devices.

Well now imagine a world in a few weeks when you own a score of devices connected to the internet — phone, computer, TV, refrigerator, car, heating system, security system, game — each with its own unique address. Namespace will implode again. So perhaps we’ll return to the earliest system of names when John who made horseshoes in the blacksmith shop down on the high street became John Smith and that will be the Google search that finds him.

[Commissioned by and crossposted at Comment is Free; discussion underway there.]

  • I hate those silly made-up names like Flickr.

    It was much better when companies had REAL names, like Kodak and Xerox.

    But why would Amazon need to buy amazon.store, amazon.book, amazon.everything? They won’t buy amazon.store; they’ll set up store.amazon. They won’t need amazon.book. They’ll set up books.amazon. Once they buy the top level domain, and all the others are yours to delegate.

    Buy the “nerd” top level domain, and sell domain names for $2/year, and you could probably make a fortune. Me, I’m thinking about buying the “xxx” top level domain, selling domain names for $50, and getting all sorts of governments to ban pr0n except on the “xxx” top-level domain. After all, it’d make filtering MUCH simpler – a single line in your “hosts” file, and your husband can’t get to pr0n sites, and what’s more, probably can’t figure out why….

  • The rollout of such top level domains a .info and .biz certainly added to the confusion — and probably helped Google. I was in a meeting today in which someone typed in an association acronym and the .com only to discover an obscure association dedicated to a certain type of horse saddle — it could have been worse.

    In addition to Google, the .com domain will likely go up in value. It’s sort of like having the right area code and exchange in New York. Or having the 800 number instead of the 877. Or beach front property.

    Also, the name thing is especially problematic if you have a common first AND last name. ( I have neither.)

  • Jeff Harrell

    Seeing as how one of the Jeff’s above you is the late Jeff Buckley, I think “eliminating” them would only be the beginning of your task.

  • I’m with you that this will be a clusterf*ck at first, but what’s the better solution? As you point out, time and technology will even things out.

  • Andy Freeman

    Back when the syntax for domain names was being decided, there were two proposals. The UK pushed for “com.amazon.whatever”. The French wanted “whatever.amazon.com”. Note that names after the host use the UK format.

    If the UK format for domain names had won, we’d have had com.amazon.books, com.amazon.movies, etc. And, when amazon got to be its own tld, it would own amazon.books, amazon.movies, etc.

    And, yes, there’s a huge difference between store.amazon and amazon.store.

  • From what I understood, the ICANN is only opening this possibility, but you still need their approval to create a TLD, and provide the reasoning, plan and infraestructure to do that. Not necessarily cheap.

    And brands are still protected against copyright infrightment, so nobody can get a chance to create the TLD .amazon but Amazon itself.

    Given this, I only expect an explosion in TLDs in generic words, like .blog, etc. An interesting turn in this is that now territories with nationalistic ambitions can create its own TLD more easily.

  • Andy Freeman

    The utility of the amazon tld is the difference between movies.amazon.com and movies.amazon – I think that it’s fairly marginal.

    I think that amazon.movies is far more valuable than movies.amazon and amazon, blockbuster, netflix, disney, etc will have to buy the former from .movies.

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  • re: your point about unique names, i wrote about that almost five years ago. it is a fun exercise to come up with systems that give 10 billion people unique names..

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  • This is why I think they need to raise the wholesale rates for .com domains instead, making it more expensive to batch purchase domain names and then squat for years. I would pay $50 a year for my domain if it meant 50% less squatters and prevented excessive web sprawl.

  • o-shift

    this could be interesting. as i understand this getting .rose extension may cost many thousands of dollars and the most desirable TLD’s (.news, .weather .blog, etc.) will spur auctions. but one area where this can get really interesting, if i understand ICANN’s concept, is how news organizations use it.

    for instance, .local — if pick-your-media company buys that TLD it can then roll out, unfettered, newyork.local, chicago.local, etc and brand the heck out of it, with the hope that typing in yourcity.local becomes second nature. The owner of such a TLD could also build out local franchise efforts, tapping into existing neighborhood blogs to create new forms of advertising supported local content.

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