The concept of a domain name has always fascinated me — so much so that I at one time pondered writing a book on its history. Seemingly overnight, the whole concept of a “name” that matched an IP address became a must-have for corporate branding. And that’s when it got interesting.
Back in the late ’90s, when I was starting out as a high-tech reporter, the Clinton administration released what would become the Memorandum of Understanding that would transfer management of the Domain Name System (DNS) from the U.S. government — and, I would argue, academia — to an independent non-profit organization. That entity eventually was named the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.
ICANN’s charter was to preserve operational stability of the Internet, promote competition, achieve broad representation of the global Internet communities, and develop policy appropriate to its mission through bottom-up, consensus-based process.
That affected every business that used a website, of course — and that meant just about every company, everywhere. Gradually, the Internet homepage became a familiar face for the company, far more than, say, the annual report cover.
At the time, the formalizing of the domain process was judged necessary by the Department of Commerce — in part, precisely because of the impact domains were having on business. Suddenly, corporations wanted to protect their brands, and it was difficult to do so with ad-hoc administration of the DNS. What made covering this era so engrossing was the struggle between those in the public sector and academia that had safeguarded the Internet for years and the corporate/legal entities that swept in to influence ICANN.
Today, ICANN is still trying to balance the interests of an open, global Internet with corporate branding. The organization recently announced it would add to the pot of 22 generic top-level domains, such as “.com,” “.net” and “.edu.” Those generic top-level domains are known by the acronym gTLD.
As my colleague Carolyn Duffy Marsan points out, you have to assess your brand and determine whether it warrants applying for a gTLD. In addition, carefully monitor what new gTLDs are spawned and make sure that your company’s brand is not endangered by them. The new domains may necessitate adding to your current domain stockpile. As this involves legal bills, registration fees and other expenses, you’ll want to carefully evaluate the need to own every domain associated with your brand.