Ten years ago Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas Friedman described how the Internet was the new battle field for global brands. He noted that the ever changing deployment of new technologies, a new generation of Internet users, free from the invasive attentions of controlling governments and rapidly falling cost of access was fuelling a growth on the level we had never seen before. A number of years before Friedman shared his vision, Microsoft Chief Executive, and the man many credit with the creation of the home computer society, Bill Gates wrote that cyberspace and industry could no longer be separate entities, and that businesses must change to succeed in the Information Age in his book Business at the Speed of Thought.
It is important to note that Friedman and Gates shared their thoughts and vision long before the creation of the Smartphone, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. Facebook was still a programme used by a small number of US college students and Amazon only sold books. Today, the latest generation of Internet users expect constant access, lightning fast connections and one click ability to transact and interact, communicating with friends and families alike with no more than icons and coded words. Commerce is now spelt with a capital E, having moved into the palm of our hands with click to order replacing bricks and mortar as the most important channel to market for many new business models.
The key to this growth has been the explosion of the Internet, which in turn gave rise to a new addressing system – the domain name. It was in March 1985 that the first domain name, Symbolics.com, was registered. Thirty years later that one domain name has been joined by over 270 million others. The simple domain name, costing just a few dollars now underpins some of the world’s most valuable brands, such as Amazon, eBay and Google.
Growth in domain names has been relatively constant over the two decades, significantly lower in recent years as the number of relevant and meaningful domain names have been exhausted. However, all that is about to change again. In 2012, ICANN, the key holders of the Internet, announced that they would allow organisations who had the aptitude and appetite to apply to run their own slice of the Internet. For the first time ever third parties with no previous experience in running a Top Level Domain registry would be able to run their own domain suffix. Over 1,000 organisations, ranging from Amazon to Zippo and over 1,100 organisations in-between applied for their own domain suffix. Two years on and some of these Top Level Domains are now becoming reality.
Twenty years ago, de-regulation of the TV industry led to an expansion of available channels in the UK from four to over four hundred in little over a few years. New communities of interest were created, allowing advertisers to specifically target audiences that they could never fully reach before. A fragmented model of interests such as Sports channels, Cooking channels and Movies channels created new audiences, changing the face of digital television forever. This fragmentation was fuelled by massive changes in technology, lower costs of entry for consumers and an appetite for change. These three factors are today present in the age of the Internet which will undoubtedly mean we will see specific communities of interest to develop, and be targeted for specific advertisers within the domain name world. We are already seeing this fragmentation in some of the geographic Top Level Domains such as dotLondon and dotNYC which are restricting registrations and usage to organisations and individuals who have valid addresses within the cities, which could mean specific search engines will be developed for searching for London or New York-based online businesses.
But just because the new TLDs are available it doesn’t mean that they will be widely used. Many organisations have spent years, and invested significant costs in SEO efforts and will be reticent to simply dump all of that to adopt a new TLD. It needs one or two “pioneers” to be brave in this new world of domain names and start adopting them and using them in above the line marketing efforts. Consumers will only feel confident in using new TLDs when they can see and trust them being used by the most respected brands such as Amazon and Google. The current flavour of marketer’s choice is using Social Media to engage with their audience. However, the ability to use new TLDs could revolutionise how marketing professionals present their brands. The right of the dot will become as important as what is to the left of the dot – Barclaysbank.com can become Barclays.Bank, or My.barclays; the possibilities are endless for clever brands or innovative marketers.
But without user adoption, these changes could be doomed to fail. Without imagineers who are willing to start to use the new TLDs there will be no consumer education. And no consumer understanding means the status quo of dull old domain names will be with us forever more.
Written by Stuart Fuller, Director of Commercial Operations and Communications, NetNames.