Crazy Domain Insane

My early days at DreamHost.

There’s something I’ve always hated about the web hosting business.

No, it’s not the cut-throat competition, the crazy customers, or the California climate.

And NO, it’s not the 5-hour work week NOR the oodles of money either… those are fine.

It’s the domain names.

(And, by extension, ICANN.)

The problem with ICANN, as I may have mentioned before, is that they are an organization created to serve a need that just doesn’t need serving.

They do get things right once a decade though, like finally fixing the “domain tasting” problem.

But do they really need meetings in Fiji, Geneva, South Africa, etc…, along with a $20 MILLION annual budget to finally do what registrars had been telling them to since the Clinton presidency?

And now, ICANN’s made a bold new move that they claim results in “a massive increase in the ‘real estate’ of the Internet.”… the open creation of new TLDs (top-level domains).

So… what does this “open creation of new TLDs” actually mean.

Well, what it DOESN’T mean is that you’ll be able to go to any registrar and just register joshisawesome.believeit. Which is too bad, because if that were the case, everybody would finally have to belive it.

Believe it or NOT!

Nope. Instead, all that’s happening is now “anybody” can apply to start a new TLD… as long as they explain to ICANN how it will be used, prove to ICANN they have the technical prowess to run a registry, and pay ICANN an estimated $100,000 to $500,000.

Call me crazy cuckoo, but I believe that’s exactly how the new TLD creation process works now!

You know .info, .biz, .coop, .asia and all those other new TLDs? Pretty sure those went through a process exactly like ICANN is describing now for future TLDs.

In the announcement they did say that people aren’t going to be able to register trademarks (like .pepsi), nor offensive words (like .dreamhost), nor I assume TLDs less than 3 letters (like .i).

What exactly is changing here?

As far as I can tell, the only thing ICANN is saying is that they’re finally standardizing the process for applying for new TLDs. The goal I guess being to make it faster and easier to add more and more TLDs in the future…

Which is to whose benefit?

Have you ever met a person (or company) not involved in the domain name industry suggest the need for a new TLD? Ever? I haven’t!

There is honestly no demand for new TLDs (besides that for newly created countries, which are known as ccTLDs, and are not what we’re talking about here) from anybody who doesn’t stand to make money from the registration of domain names.

And that is because there’s only one thing that makes a particular domain name desirable for legitimate use: clarity.

Our president answering a question about .la domains.

That’s it. That’s why brand names and generic word domains are valuable, that’s why short domains are valuable, and that’s why no matter how many new TLDs are created, everybody still wants .com.

It is a huge obstacle for any TLD to offer a domain that is clearer overall for its intended use than some still available .com. Blame it on consumer ignorance, but I know I’d still rather have jjflowerslosangeles.com than flowers.la.

(And who types URLs anyway these days?)

Again I must ask, all these new TLDs are to whose benefit?

As far as I can see, the only possible beneficiaries are those actually in the domain name monetization industry.

More possible TLDs means more possible typos, more defensive registrations by trademark holders, and possibly some money to be made from the few suckers who don’t realize that flowers.la is not a clear domain.

What new TLDs will be made?

Hmm… we’re not going to be seeing company-based TLDs (e.g. .ibm, .coke) anytime soon; I doubt IBM is that interested in switching over from ibm.com. And since ICANN announced people can’t register trademark infringing TLDs, IBM won’t have to do it defensively either.

I guess I could see a case being made for TLDs that better categorize the type of site being visited, perhaps things like .blog, .wiki, .forum, .shop. Except, we’ve already got sub-domains for that!

In fact, www.blah.blog is exactly the same number of characters at blog.blah.com; all we’d be doing is switching a .com for a www. (And don’t try to say people would just use http://blah.blog/… that’d be even less clear!)

Not to mention, where you once had just one domain name to manage (and pay for), you’ve now got dozensall with different registries, different rules, and probably different expiration dates.

Maybe there’s a case for making more location-based TLDs, perhaps things like .nyc, .sf, .miami, .toledo. But again, we’ve already got the country-code TLDs, and besides, isn’t the Internet supposed to be international? Just use local search to find local stuff.

(Can you really see people just guessing the URL “www.taxi.chicago” directly on their iPhone 4G. Ha, it is to laugh!)

I had no idea Ohio was even habitable!

What about price?

I don’t know if ICANN is going to just charge just a flat fee per TLD, or if they’re going to keep charging a per-domain fee like they do now. If it’s the status quo, then there is really no hope for interesting new uses of TLDs.

If, however, there is no incremental fee to ICANN for more domain names… welcome to the dawning of the age of domainius! Free domainius, that is.

Of course, any free TLDs would have to be tied to some particular application, otherwise squatters would immediately register every possible domain and put them up for auction.

I can see a free email provider getting .mail, a free blog host .blog, a free photo site .pics.

(There’s not that much of a benefit in having josh.blog as opposed to say, josh.blogger.com … but I guess since you’re going to be the 10,000,000th result on Google, you might as well go for the shorter URL!)

Express your unique individuality with a .blog domain today!

Auctions Smauctions

Did you see recently that the guy in charge of domain auctions at GoDaddy was discovered bidding up their own auctions?! That is some real bush league crap; to be totally expected throughout the entire domain name industry.

In fact, in case this blog post isn’t loooooooooong enough for you, let me now take a moment to relate a personal anecdote of mine about a domain auction.

Back in January, my wife was starting a floral design business, and had decided upon a name for it. Unfortunately, the obviously best domain name for her website was already taken, and being used by a squatter on sedo.com. Rather than dealing with them, she just registered a slightly longer variation that was still available.

Well, her birthday was coming up, so I decided to see what it’d cost to get that “best” domain. I went to the site, clicked the link to “make an offer”, and entered $100.

Immediately my bid was rejected!

It said the minimum offer the owner of this domain would accept was $777! Highway robbery!

After thinking about it for a little while, I figured, what the hey, it’s a birthday present, and I want to see how this thing works, so I made a (completely insane) bid for $777.

Automatically the system responded saying the owner had made a “counter-offer” back… $7770!!!

(How iiiiiiiiiiiiiiinteresting… sedo has a completely automated system for domain owners to counter-bid on domains.)

Well, harrumph. I raised my offer to $800. Immediately I got a “response” from the seller staying firm at $7770, and that was their final offer!

At this point I was curious… would they lower their price at all? So, I countered back with what I pretty much figured was the most I’d spend for this (completely of no value to anybody but my wife) domain, $1150.

What happened next really surprised me… I got another automated message stating that I had surpassed some secret minimum offer the seller had set at which they were, no not willing to actually sell the domain for, but at which they were okay with automatically putting it up for a seven-day auction on the front page of sedo.com… and my offer was the starting “bid”!

Gee thanks!

That explained why there are so many domains on that page with just one bid yet really high prices!

Well, at that point I figured I’d just sit and wait… nobody else was going to be bidding more than $1150 for this obscure domain name! And, the auction was ending the day before my wife’s birthday anyway, so the timing worked out.

I waited the whole week, and of course, nothing happened. The auction was going to end at 8:04 AM on a Saturday, but I didn’t even plan on waking up to watch the end.

Whoops. When I did wake up, at 8:12 AM, I (sneakily) immediately checked on the auction… only to find that somebody else had won; with a bid of $1175 at 7:56 AM!

I wasn’t horribly upset; after all $1150 was an order of magnitude more than I’d intended to pay. But I just knew in my gut of guts (I have four) that the winning bidder was either the original seller, somebody working for sedo.com, or somebody who figured I’d pay even more to buy it from them later! One thing I knew it wasn’t was anybody intending to actually use the domain.

The Winner

You’re still here?

That, in a large ostrich nutshell, is why I hate domain names. The secondary domain name industry exists purely to squeeze profit from consumer confusion, artificial scarcity, and literal extortion. No actual value has been added to the universe, just a redistribution of money from people who have a valid use for a clear domain to people who registered that clear domain first.

And this is not, I repeat not, sour grapes of wrath by me, just because back in 1994 (when I first discovered whois) I checked all these big public company domain names like honda.com, toyota.com, and mcdonalds.com, (I wasn’t too creative back then) and found them all to be AVAILABLE.

I thought to myself, “Whoa. These companies would probably pay hundreds of dollars for their domains in a year or two!” To top it off, way back then domain names were completely free… you only had to apply for them with Network Solutions.

But, I decided against it, entirely because I thought it’d be sleazy. I swear it was not because I was afraid of getting sued, nor because I didn’t actually know exactly how to apply for a domain.

Nope, it was solely due to my irreproachable morals and incredible dignity.

Who will raise Huey, Dewey, and Louie?

You see, I decided to take the noble path and start DreamHost Web Hosting, where we earn our money fair and square: through over-selling, over-charging, and, every once in a long while, even over-blogging.