Sep 102010
 

Psst, ready for a new kind of domain name?

Unless you’re directly involved in the domain name industry, you probably haven’t heard about the runaway success of .CO. It’s the country code top level domain (ccTLD) for the country of Columbia, and previously a registrant had to have some kind of direct relationship with Columbia to register one.

That all changed this summer, when .CO opened registration for worldwide use. In barely more than two months, they have registered over 440,000 domain names. And industry sources tell me the momentum shows no sign of slowing down.

Why is this important? Well, first some perspective. You don’t have to know much about domain names to know that .COM (and to a certain extent .NET) dominate the domain name market. This has been the case since the dawn of the Internet and has not changed for many years.

According to VeriSign, the registry for both those TLDs, the total worldwide number of registered domain names stood at 193 million for Q1 2010. .COM and .NET accounted for over 99 million of that total. And domain growth was relatively stagnant — the entire global market only grew by one million names in Q1.

So that means that in in barely two months .CO has grown half as much as the entire global domain name market did the first three months of this year. (Here’s a link to the VeriSign release in June — they used to make the report itself available off their site but its not there anymore.) The industry hasn’t ever seen this kind of growth, and it’s the first development in years to raise questions about .com’s hegemony.

But there’s an even bigger reason why this success is noteworthy. ICANN, the non-profit entity created to manage certain important parts of the Internet, has announced definitive plans to offer hundreds of new domains names in the next 18-24 months, so called generic top level domains (gTLDs). Anyone¬† with money and a business plan will soon be able to apply to run their own TLD. For example, think .NIKE, .IBM, .APPLE, .NYC, etc. and so forth. You can probably immediately see the possibilities — and the potential problems.

I’ll leave the pros and cons of this to another, longer post — I’ll admit I was hugely skeptical when I first wrote about this back in 2008. But the new TLDs are coming, and lots of folks are getting ready – big corporations, major cities, advertising agencies and existing registries and registrars. Oh, and intellectual property attorneys — lots and lots of them are really excited about this development. After all, who should get .apple – Steve Jobs, or the US Apple Association? I’ll see you in court!

Much remains to be seen on this front, so stay tuned. In the meantime, .CO’s success is the first indication that there just might be enough market interest to support some of these new TLDs. And maybe, just maybe, .COM’s long reign as king of the domains will be challenged.

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