The Changing Face of Internet Addresses and Online Identity

A specialist neurology clinic in Japan has this revealing signage with its website  address prominently proclaiming its function (photo courtesy: #DomainsInTheWild).

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What is significant about this? The top level domain (TLD) name (.clinic) is precise and resonates.

A company that makes smart earplugs using cutting-edge research and high-end technology has the following website address: http://hush.technology. It is clear and focuses on its USP – technology. Similarly, the website address of one of the world’s largest banks with operations in 75 countries and nearly 190,000 employees says: https://group.bnpparibas. The company name itself that is its website address. No confusing nomenclatures signifying whether it is a company or an organisation. One of the world’s best-known brands of yogurt and other dairy delicacies has its American website, http://usa.fage. The brand Fage is the address.

To illustrate the significance of this emerging new internet naming space, here is an interesting story.

On April Fools’ Day in 2015, a curious scene welcomed visitors to the world’s largest search engine. Millions of internet users were stunned when they logged in to Google to search for their daily dose of information, data or horror news.

Google had an inverted image on its page:

 

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Confused users blamed their computers or smartphones or maybe their browsers. Some may even have kicked the PC.

 

Some news stories tried to explain it in the following way.

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And funnily, Google had replaced its standard website URL (google.com) with a mirror image (com.google)—using their new ‘dotBrand’ address.

 

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This marked a watershed moment on the internet. For the last letters after the dot – the TLD – was no longer the staid, old names.

 

What did this signify? That henceforth, the website address could be precise and unrestricted:  it could be a brand; a name, a corporate, service or industry (clinic/hospital/club); or just a noun (shop, shoes).

This is the Era of New-Age Domain Names

For over 30 years just a handful of TLDs defined how content could be indexed, stored and found. The addresses were generic in nature and users had to adapt. There were no alternatives.

The early ad dresses were TLDs like .com, .org, .edu and .mil. In 2001 TLDs were added to include.info, .pro, .aero, .coop, etc. This had to be expanded to accommodate growing user requirements in 2004 with TLDs like .post, .mobi, .asia, etc.

However, mobile networks and an explosion of content caused an unprecedented increase in use of the internet. The proliferation of websites (over 1.3 billion websites at last count) created a tsunami of information. But the addresses remained the same.

While content, creativity and use cases multiplied — from music to finance, and from entertainment to business – the manner in which online presence could be accessed was limited. Billions of users searched for information using the same naming conventions or website addresses – obviously this was a constraint and limitation in the addressing space that was no longer capable of meeting the needs of the new-age internet with its plethora of content, applications and new consumers.

It was in this background of rapid change that the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees and brings together the communities that define policies and technology standards on the internet, decided to allow thousands of new generic top level domains (ngTLDs) with no restriction on size, type or category and need of users. In 2012, over 1,930 applications were received for new TLDs – covering generic, daily-use words (vote, organic, shop, photography, for example); geographical names (such as London, Istanbul, Las Vegas, Melbourne); communities (hotels, banks, accountants); and, of course, brands and company names (Audi, Dabur, BNPParibas).

After a detailed evaluation and approval process, agreements were signed and the first of these ngTLDs were rolled out in early 2014.

This is fairly rapid. The trickle of initial new names has now become a torrent. And the new naming system has a huge advantage over what was available in the past for many reasons and it is now changing the entire fabric of the internet.

For one, it is redefining the entrenched status quo. And in keeping with the changing nature of the internet – home for new business models, mobile-centric startups and a hub for huge financial transactions daily –  the domain addresses can be precise and focused:

  • For the legal profession there is .lawyer 
  • Want a new pair of shoes? Check out shoes — soon, bata.shoes?Architects, accountants, and dentists have.archi, .accountant and .dental Relax with a .coffee, or .wine, .golf, a session of .yoga, or some .love or let’s get .social 
  • And for the photographer there is .photography (it is one of the most successful TLDs)
  • Environmentally inclined? You have .green, .organic, .blue, .bio (which could be “biological” or even your CV) 
  • Cities now have their own virtual piece of TLD real estate — .London, .Helsinki, .Vegas, .Sydney, .Brussels, Istanbul, .Moscow, Brussels, .NYC, .Melbourne, 
  • To protect your company or brand choose a dotBrand. No fake alternatives. Go to .dabur if you want information about ayurvedic products, .chrysler for the auto giant’s real stuff, .bugatti for those who worship this machine, .chanel, .apple, .shriram, .audi, There can be no more fake Internet addresses.

 

The dotBrand domains have been especially successful of all the new gTLDs in terms of the value they deliver: trust and confidence.

For example, it is estimated that some 2.5 million false bookings every year are reported from travel sites 1.  This is a huge problem for the hotels, tourism and travel sites. In fact there have been dozens of instances where travelers have been duped by fake sites mimicking the world’s largest home-sharing site.

Marriott is among the leaders that is changing this. By using .marriott, its customers can be assured of not being cheated and they can make bookings on this site without fear or worry.

It is now becoming clear that this segment has wrought one of the biggest and most fundamental changes in digital presence, by enabling brands with guaranteed security in online presence.

The brand TLD is not just a domain name or a new way to set up a website. It is a digital identity platform. Brands are creating authentic and secure ecosystems leveraging their new digital presence and technical and messaging capabilities around this.

A dotBrand owner controls 100 percent of who is allowed to get domains within their TLD and fully controls how these sites are used. This is no longer a generic name like .com where anyone can squat on any trademark or brand name and become a source of worry for the real brand or business owner. Entire communities of channel partners and customers converge around a unique brand messaging platform using the brands TLD.

If brand-owners do not like something that is posted on their dotBrand, they can take it down. This removes the hassles of litigation under the defined dispute resolution policies — the brand itself is in complete control.

Here is what Canon said when it launched its  http://global.canon site – a visual and colourful feast of a website if there was one:

Because “.canon” can only be used by Canon Group companies and services, visitors to sites that use the new TLD can easily confirm their authenticity and be assured that the information they contain is reliable. Additionally, by leveraging the simplicity of the TLD, which is easy to remember and easy to understand, Canon aims to enhance the Company’s global brand value.

The biggest benefit of dot brand is to the end user / customer. The brand’s customers can be confident that when they visit a site on a dotBrand TLD, they are in absolutely the right place —  not inside the web of some cybersquatter or hijacker with a pseudo-site.

This security factor is comforting. It gives customers a safe website that is easy to remember – just  by the brand name.  It offers real security to online customers. Apart from brand protection online it is the main reason why a large number of financial organisations and banks — including many of India’s top most banks — are slowly moving in this direction.  Some launches are expected soon.

The dotBrand is the best defence against counterfeiting. A bank’s customers can be clearly told that if they go to a .com or some other TLD, there are no guarantees; but if they go to a dotBrand then that is always the real deal – the only address for that brand. Customers cannot be ripped off.

In fact, the Google incident on April Fool’s Day of 2015 served as a wake-up call for all in the internet addressing space.  Google itself transformed into the Alphabet company and renamed its website: https://abc.xyz. A new corporate identity enabled by the domain .xyz – which has over 6.5 million registrations of its domains (see graph below). In all, 1179 new TLDs have been launched since the Google trick last year and 23.9 million new domains have been registered.

 

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Source: https://ntldstats.com

 

TLD WISE SHARE:

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Source: ntldstats

Large brands are adopting both generic domains and their own brand domains, thus setting a trend. For example, the largest consumer electronics show (CES) in the globe – which prides on showcasing latest technology marvels moved its website to: http://ces.tech. Canon has shifted its branding strategy to a brilliant site global.canon. Audi launched one of its high-end machines recently and shifted social media conversations to twitter.audi – which resolved on its official Twitter handle – and created a huge buzz. Nike, BMW, Apple, and Dabur, meanwhile, are all deploying their brand TLDs in different ways and moving towards using their own TLDs. Using the .brand TLD in email communications, for example, is something on which Dabur has successfully been a pioneer. It has shifted the entire corporate email addresses to mail.dabur.

The Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation launched a new media hosting product on its .FOX brand domain: mediacloud.fox

Also, Abbott, one of the world’s largest pharamceutical companies, has a new corporate site http://www.lifetothefullest.abbott. Thus, from finance (.financial, .loans) .to real estate  (.rentals, .market) and even adult content (.porn, .adult)—the Internet naming space has moved into a new orbit, one that is reshaping the old order and it has enabled the TLD conventions of the past to move to a better, technologically superior plane. New TLDs have started to rapidly change the old world order and norms of online presence. Internet addresses have become more personal, personable and reliable, and this trend will only accelerate in the future.

 

Disclaimer:  Author’s views are personal.

 

Endnote

  1. The Next Web, 8 companies saying no to dot-com and yes to new domain extensions, July 2016.

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Gajendra Upadhyay

Gajendra Upadhyay is Director- Regional Business Development, Afilias. Mr. Gajendra has nearly two decades of experience... Read More

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