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Why .anything is a bad idea
June 30, 2008, 2:49 am
Filed under: Brand protection, Domain names, ICANN, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

The news last week from Paris that ICANN is about to blow open the entire domain name industry got me thinking, mainly along the lines of why on earth this would be a good idea, given that history is littered with examples that suggest it is not.

So why would opening-up the domain name market even more be a good idea? ICANN started going through a similar motion back in 2001, when it feared that the .com ‘real estate’ was quickly going to run out. After the launch of .info (which has been reasonably successful) ICANN decided it was a good idea to launch industry-specific domain suffixes. In principal you might think this makes sense, but in practice, suffixes like .museum and .travel proved to be massive flops with both consumers and brands.

When it comes to surfing the web, there is a huge disconnect between what ICANN wants and what the public’s collective consciousness is willing and able to accept. For consumers, the standard expectation remains .com, and no matter how liberalised the market becomes, brands will never stick two fingers up to .com domain and only secure their .brandname address instead. We’re too far gone for that to ever work out.

Industry-specific domains have struggled for that reason.

Country code domains such as .uk, .de, .fr etc have enjoyed success simply because they assure the person looking for a website that the information they will find will be relevant to their local market and in a language they can understand. They provide a genuinely useful filter. A .anything policy would provide a completely useless filter.

As for the threat the new plans will pose to brands -and a lot has been made of it in the press this past week – but in fact at $100,000 to set up your own domain, the price tag will remain largely prohibitive for any large-scale cybersquatting, domaining or speculator activity. Besides, and perhaps more worryingly for ICANN, brands have already shown some resistance to the never ending process of defensive registrations in response to yet-another-new-suffix-launch. You just need to see how much lower take-up of .asia was compared to .eu just a few years before, that it seems domain suffix fatigue may be setting in.

Complicating the system even further under the guise of liberalisation suggests whatever ICANN is trying to achieve, it is not going about it in the right way.

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The Telegraph and its widgets

The Daily Telegraph is making strides in implementing its online strategy after the latest ABCe figures revealed that the Mail Online had overtaken it to become the UK’s most popular national newspaper site in May, with 18.7 million unique users.

Crucially, the Telegraph isn’t just thinking that having a Facebook and Twitter presence is the key to a great digital strategy, like so many of its rivals. What the Telegraph has realised is that just as social media allows individuals to consume media in a more fragmented and personalised way, so they can actually benefit from that, by allowing individuals to follow personalised sections of Telegraph content. The dream for content owners trying to fight against falling traditional media circulations, is being able to segment and offer their content online to their audience in a completely personalised way. It’s quite an involved process to achieve that when you consider how broad a national newspaper’s coverage is, and how many segments that could be, but the Telegraph has taken a big first step on that road, and with these widgets is making an important stride into the mobile space too.

What is worth noting about the Telegraph’s approach is that six of its eight new widgets are all designed to drive traffic and engagement with Telegraph TV – the online video that’s become so important to all the major newspapers. Beyond that, there’s a breaking news widget and a toe in the water with a slightly more ‘niche’ European Championships Football widget. Apparently there are plans to launch further specific sports and business widgets shortly.

Above all this shows the Telegraph’s open approach to digital and clear understanding that it’s not just about pushing people through the Telegraph.co.uk front page, or amassing a number of fans on a Facebook page or twitter feed, but giving people direct access to the content they are really interested in, in the way they want it. We’ll just have to see in the next two or three months how big an impact that will have on the ABCe figures…