Dan's Domain Site | Structure | Old TLDs

Dan's Domain Site

Structure: Old Top Level Domains

A common misconception about domain names is that they all end in .com. Most sites these days do, but it's only one of many available endings. In fact, there are eight different top level domains in what can be considered the "Old TLDs" (as opposed to the new TLDs that were implemented starting in 2001, and the country-code domains, which are discussed in other sections of this site).

The Old TLDs:

.com -- for commercial entities

.com is heavily abused by noncommercial users, as discussed to great length below. All the dumb-asses of the world seem to think that all websites should have .com addresses, whether they logically belong there or not.

Very controversially, the registry of .com and .net, Verisign, set up a "wildcard DNS record" in September, 2003, causing lookups to nonexistent domains to return the address of a Verisign search site. This is supposedly "helpful" to users, but also most likely produces revenue for Verisign via pay-per-click search positioning, as well as yielding statistics on traffic to unregistered domains that would be very useful for domain speculation. See some commentary, and a statement from the Internet Architecture Board.

IANA page giving official contact for .com

Verisign Global Registry Services, the registry of .com

InterNIC site listing accredited registrars.

Wikipedia entry for .com

Some .com names in use:

.org -- for noncommercial entities

Actually, the RFC document defining the TLD meanings says it's for "miscellaneous" organizations that don't fit elsewhere, but since commercial organizations are covered by .com, the implication is that .org entities are noncommercial. .org is the most appropriate domain for both non-profit and not-for-profit organizations; the distinction between these is important to the IRS but not to the domain name system.

Some discussion at the ICANN site in 2001 indicated that there was a proposal to impose enforcement of noncommercial-organization status on .org registrants, but little clarity about just what that would entail -- would official non-profit accreditation with a governmental body be required, or just common-sense examination of the domain's use to see whether it's predominantly noncommercial? Would personal sites, fan sites, and other noncommercial things that don't have an official organization behind them be allowed to keep using .org domains? I don't know. However, that proposal didn't go anywhere, and instead a recommendation was made by ICANN's domain name supporting organization to make .org a sponsored domain run by a nonprofit organization and marketed specifically to nonprofits, but not to impose any restrictions on either past or future registrants.

Subsequently, ICANN evaluated proposals (both commercial and noncommercial) for the new .org registry, to take over from Verisign when their contract runs out at the end of 2002. Proposals were supposed to be sensitive to the needs of the noncommercial community and are supposed to market .org in a manner encouraging its differentiation from commercial domains and discouraging duplicative or defensive registrations. The winning registry needed to demonstrate that they have experience running a large-scale domain registry, but they were possibly able to get a grant from a $5 million fund being paid by Verisign to ICANN for the express purpose of helping the .org transition.

ICANN-watchers thought from the start that the bid from the Internet Society, with Afilias (which runs the .info TLD) running the registry, was the predetermined winner, but that didn't stop others from bidding too, like Unity Registry, a joint venture of Poptel (which runs the .coop registry) and AusRegistry (which runs the .au country code). The complete set of applications can be seen on ICANN's Web site, along with a discussion forum. As predicted, ISOC's bid won, and they established an organization called "Public Interest Registry" to take over .org at the beginning of 2003.

While some noncommercial organizations have snubbed .org, there are some that actively embrace it; for instance, an advertising campaign for nonprofit financial services provider TIAA-CREF emphasises the fact that they're a "dot-org" instead of a "dot-com".

Now, despite all my ranting about people losing sight of the distinction between commercial and noncommercial stuff where domain usage is concerned, it is true that this distinction can be a bit tricky; Creative Commons released a lengthy report discussing this for the purpose of trying to pin down what activity is "noncommercial" for the purpose of compliance with their noncommercial copyright licenses.

IANA page giving official contact for .org

Public Interest Registry, the registry of .org

InterNIC site listing accredited registrars.

Wikipedia entry for .org

Some .org names in use:

.net -- for network infrastructure providers

Next to .com, this is the most heavily abused domain, as few current users can remotely claim to being part of the network infrastructure in the manner intended by the creators of the domain name system. It's instead commonly used by people whose desired name is already taken in .com.

IANA page giving official contact for .net

Verisign Global Registry Services, the registry of .net

InterNIC site listing accredited registrars.

Wikipedia entry for .net

Some .net names in use:

.edu -- for educational institutions

.edu is limited to accredited degree-granting institutions. There was some dispute in the past about whether they must be in the United States or not; there's nothing in the relevant RFC that says this, and several foreign universities were given domains in this TLD, but more recently the registry stopped allowing foreign registrations, and that's written in the current registry's policy now. .edu domains actually used to be more loosely granted to anything educational, so a few non-degree-granting educational organizations such as the San Francisco Exploratorium and various consortiums have .edu domains "grandfathered" from an earlier time.

Until recently, .edu was administered by Network Solutions, but it has recently been turned over to an educational consortium, which has loosened some of the rules -- previously, only 4-year degree-granting institutions were allowed (other than the few grandfathered early registrations), but now community colleges are allowed as well. I think that's a good thing, and perhaps it ought to be broadened even more to let such things as high schools register; the current tight enforcement has only led such educational institutions that don't qualify for a .edu domain to instead misuse the .com domain for their address (though they're usually noncommercial). Some balance needs to be reached. If you're too loose in enforcing criteria, then all sorts of abuses occur. If you're too tight, then people ignore that top level domain in favor of others with looser standards, even if they're not really the appropriate one for the type of entity registering.

I'd like to see the U.S.-only restriction lifted, though; I don't know just how that crept in (as I said above, it's not in the RFC), but it had become the de-facto rule by the time .edu was turned over to Educause, and has been codified formally in the official rules now -- actually, not surprising, given that the contract turning .edu over to Educause from Network Solutions was instigated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, acting under its authority over the Internet dating back from when it was the Arpanet and was a U.S. government project -- ICANN was bypassed completely, even though they were supposedly taking over administration of the domain name system on a privatized, international basis. We'll probably be stuck forever with US-only .gov and .mil domains (while all other countries are expected to use their country codes for government and military sites), but .edu really ought to be a global educational domain.

IANA page giving official contact for .edu

EduCause, the registry of .edu

Wikipedia entry for .edu

Some .edu names in use:

.gov -- for governmental entities

.gov is limited by the RFC document to U.S. federal government agencies. However, it always had a few state government sites, like Washington, "grandfathered" from before the "federal-only" restriction was added. Actually, it would be more logical for the federal government to register under .fed.us (a subdomain of .us already available as an alternate place for federal agencies to register), like all other countries' governments which are under their appropriate country code.

Somewhere around 2001, they started letting state and local governments get .gov addresses again. For a long time, this seemed to be happening "under the table" with nothing in the official registry site mentioning this availability, but in 2002 it was redesigned to indicate that such entities can now register .gov domains, and that there are proposed changes to open things up to even more related categories. They're also giving .gov domains to Native American tribes, of the form tribename-nsn.gov (where NSN stands for Native Sovereign Nation), even though they already have namespace under nsn.us. I don't really like this use of hyphenated names as a formal rule of the namespace; if they want tribes to have names of a consistent form, the proper thing to do in the DNS is to make them subdomains of a common domain, as is already done in nsn.us. Setting up nsn.gov or a new .nsn TLD would also be all right, but why give them names of something-nsn.gov, which have the illusion of structure that isn't really there?

As I mention above in .edu, some loosening is a good idea, possibly reducing the abuse of other domains (especially .com) if governmental entities can get the "vanity" names they want in .gov. However, I'd like to see some encouragement of use of proper structure; some of the proposals for .gov go too far in the unstructured direction, like letting agencies within a state get names like pennsylvania-parks.gov where a subdomain of the main state domain would be more logical. Also, states had a perfectly reasonable structure in .us for their sites, and it would be easier to find state government sites if they all followed it consistently. Letting them register in .gov adds one more source of inconsistency alongside the state sites that already forsake .us in favor of .com or .org. And the states can't all get consistent in .gov either, since many use the two letter postal code, but Virginia can't because va.gov is already taken by the Veterans' Administration.

A page in a government site (which doesn't seem to be online any more) warned the public that "only Websites ending with the ".gov" suffix are official government Websites", and that other sites with .com / .org / .net / etc. addresses, though they might contain legitimate information and services, are not official. If only that were true... all too many governmental entities have caught dot-com-itis and forsaken their proper TLD. This site also recommends evaluating sites based on their domain ending, such as being aware of whether they're governmental, educational, and so on.

In what seems to be the first known cybersquatting case in .gov, the registration of aonn.gov was pulled -- it turns out that there's no such government agency as Access One Network Northwest, which somehow managed to obtain that domain anyway and had a Web site claiming to be part of a defense security network.

In 2011, in response to an executive order by President Obama to streamline government Web sites, a freeze was imposed on new .gov domains for executive departments until the end of the year. (Official Whitehouse site report -- Independent report

IANA page giving official contact for .gov

Official .gov registry site

Wikipedia entry for .gov

Some .gov names in use:

.mil -- for military entities

.mil is limited to the U.S. military. This is another domain that would be better off being under .us rather than at the international top level, but it is a historical anomaly due to the Defense Department's involvement in the creation of the Internet in the first place. A few sites have reported that the .mil registration site is apparently not up to "military-grade" security... it's apparently fairly easy to con it into letting you register .mil addresses yourself, although I haven't tried... I don't want to get jailed without trial by the Homeland Security people! It's unfortunate, though, that, having a whole gTLD to themselves, the U.S. military still insists on using silly, inappropriate .com domains for their recruiting sites.

IANA page giving official contact for .mil

Official .mil registry site

Wikipedia entry for .mil

Some .mil names in use:

.int -- for international treaty organizations

This is the most tightly controlled international top level domain, and hence the least used. Even the few organizations qualifying for .int domains don't usually make much use of them, and they bitch and whine (and agitate politically for new rules in their favor) when they find that "their" name or acronym is already taken in .com and .org.

IANA page giving official contact for .int

Official .int registry site

Wikipedia entry for .int

Some .int names in use:

.arpa -- for addressing and routing parameters

Usually, people think there are seven old TLDs (if they remember that .int exists), but there is actually an eighth global TLD. Normal Internet users never have occasion to encounter it, though it's very important to the internal workings of the Internet. Historically, .arpa was originally the temporary TLD in which sites in the old ARPAnet (the predecessor of the Internet, operated by the U.S. Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Administration) had their names until they migrated into their proper place in the domain name system (.edu, .mil, .com, etc.). However, one domain within .arpa became a vital part of the infrastructure -- in-addr.arpa -- used by programs on the Internet that must do reverse lookups from IP addresses to their associated domains. IP addresses have subdomains of in-addr.arpa associated with them which in turn resolve to DNS records showing what domain they belong to. Only "techies" need to know about this, as it's all done behind the scenes, invisible to normal users.

This use of .arpa was long regarded as an archaic legacy usage that really ought to be changed -- in fact, when the .int domain was first set up, in addition to international treaty organizations it was also designated as the proper place for Internet infrastructure functions, with in-addr.arpa not being moved to .int simply because that would break all the existing software that expects it to be where it now is. It was expected that future structures of that sort, such as the one being outlined now for the new IPv6 protocol, would be in .int, not .arpa. However, there seems to have been a recent change of heart, and recent standards-track proposals have decided instead to put new DNS structural lookup records in .arpa as well, with the acronym "retrofitted" to now mean Address and Routing Parameters Area. Thus, proposals now exist to create ip6.arpa and e164.arpa to process queries in IPv6 and E.164 protocols respectively. RFC 3172 documents the current status of the .arpa domain.

IANA page giving official contact for .arpa

Official .arpa registry site

Wikipedia entry for .arpa

Uses and Abuses

If your organization is non-profit or not-for-profit, .org is the proper domain suffix to use. Way too many noncommercial organizations are registering under .com these days, probably because their leadership is too ignorant to realize that this suffix implies that they're commercial in nature. Savvy net users will expect to find such organizations in .org, not .com.

A convention of mobsters in a Simpsons episode resolved to set up their Web site at crime.org. This is a proper domain usage if this is a noncommercial organization of criminals, so I salute the producers of that show for illustrating domain usage beyond .com. The domain in question is already taken, though. Another media mention of proper .org usage came in a USA Today article, which speculated on What Would Jesus Do with the Internet: "With limited funds, a small cult following and only 12 employees, he makes a short film called The Sermon on the Mount, and posts it on his Web site: www.theothercheek.org. A Web address using .org would seem fitting, and besides, www.theothercheek.com is a face-painting outfit." And comedian Stephen Colbert, of The Colbert Report, saluted gay.com, which had awarded him the "Man of the Year" title, for being a commercial gay site, not like the silly nonprofit charity gay.org; they may be undermining family values and stuff, but at least they're making money, which is what America is all about. (Both of them may soon be able to get addresses in .gay if that is approved under the latest TLD expansion.)

Political parties and candidates are among the entities that fit best in the .org domain. While some candidates may really be "for sale" to monied interests, they probably don't want this as their public image, so the commercial .com domain doesn't really make much sense for their campaign sites. It's a sign of the dumbing-down of the Internet over the years that most of the U.S. Presidential and congressional campaign sites for the 2000 races were in .com domains; in the 1996 races (the first to use the Internet in a big way) they usually made correct use of .org. A Libertarian candidate did use a .org site, though; Libertarians do tend to get things right even when the rest of the world is getting them wrong.

(A little-known provision, appended at one point to legislation on the subject of "domain cybersquatting", would have created a new second-level domain within the .us country-code domain specifically for the use of candidates and elected officials. This appears to have been removed from the bill before it actually passed, but if this domain ever did become available, it would be the most logical place for U.S. campaign sites.)

An unrelated point on campaign sites, as well as any other site for a temporarily-significant thing (e.g., a particular convention or other event): I would suggest that if you are creating a site for such a thing that you try to "think generic" when registering a domain for it, and try to pick a name that will be usable for future things, and not just be tied to a single occurrence and obsolete after it. For instance, if it's a campaign site for Joe Schmoe, running for some office in 2004, joeschmoe.org or voteforjoe.org are better names than joeschmoe2004.org, because the latter is useful only in 2004, but the former ones can be reused by Joe for any future campaigns he might be running in. Similarly, it's better to direct Super Bowl fans to superbowl.com as a general site about this event than to set up superbowlxxxiv.com, etc., each year. If you ignore this and get a "temporary-event" domain for the ephemeral marketing boost it gives, you'll be stuck paying renewal fees for it until the end of time or else facing the possibility, after a lapse, that some jerk will get it and put pornography on it, while people are still linking and bookmarking the address expecting it to go to your site.

Unfortunately, the use of .com is so entrenched that sometimes, even when somebody specifically requests registration of a .org (or other) domain, they'll wind up with the .com version by mistake! That's what happened to Dan Jacobson, who emailed me to report that his attempt to get his hosting provider to register jidanni.org was messed up. From the email sent by the provider: "My registration person accidentally registered the .com for you. As this is totally our fault, we will register the .org now and you are welcome to use both." I won't embarrass the hosting provider (which I know to be reputable, though it's not the one I use) by naming it here, and anyway, they fixed the mistake at their own expense. But it shows how much of a dot-com mindset exists that the proponents of more logical domain use are going to have to fight hard to unseat.

On the other hand, as of 2011 with the U.S. government cracking down on alleged piracy sites by seizing their domains, there has been some movement of sites that are targets, or possible targets, of this to switch to domains with registries outside the U.S., causing a small exodus out of .com (and .org and .net as well). Newzbin is one of these, switching from .com to .es. These sorts of sites, however, are still in the minority, as it's more common for sites starting in other domains to move to .com when they want to be more "mainstream", such as the switch of del.icio.us to delicious.com and bit.ly to bitly.com.

Note: Some people were reluctant to use .org domains because of rumors of a proposed ICANN policy change to impose restrictions on the .org domain, such as limiting registration to registered nonprofits. This would have gone against the original (RFC 1591) concept of it being the place for "miscellaneous organizations" not fitting in the other TLDs (which encompasses everything that's noncommercial, nongovernmental, and not a university, not just IRS-certified nonprofits). Much discussion followed, and a petition was circulated. The end result, however, was that the unrestricted registration policy remained in effect even after the 2003 transfer of .org to a new nonprofit registry; all people involved agreed that it would be unfair and impractical to attempt to impose restrictions to a TLD that had been wide open for so long.

Even the U.S. government has joined the "domain abuse frenzy" of using clearly inappropriate top-level domains. They already have complete control of the .gov and .mil domains, but that hasn't stopped them from getting a few .com addresses themselves: The U.S. Postal Service used usps.gov properly for years, but later decided to use usps.com as its primary address, and has also registered other domains such as stampsonline.com.

OK, maybe that's not the best example, since the USPS is being run as a quasi-commercial entity these days. But nobody is likely to think of the United States Navy as "commercial" (wouldn't that make them mercenaries?). In the Navy, you can sail the seven seas, but even if it would put your mind at ease, don't ask and don't tell why they put their recruiting site at navy.com, and also have some other dot-coms like navyjobs.com.

Those of you in other branches of the service shouldn't get all cocky about not being part of this domain abuse; the U.S. Army has goarmy.com, and the Air Force has airforce.com. Who was it that said that "military intelligence" was an oxymoron?

Wouldn't such addresses as stamps.usps.gov, jobs.navy.mil, and go.army.mil have been more logical? These would identify unambiguously that these domains were official sites of the agencies in question, with no chance that they're really unaffiliated sites grabbed by pranksters or scammers, like whitehouse.com, a site completely unconnected with the White House (actually, a porn site, which some might say was related to the White House, at least under the former administration)?

A news story (unfortunately, not on line any more) shows one of the problems that came about due to the Navy's illogical domain usage. Apparently, they had a number of .com domains for different recruiting offices, like navydallas.com, etc., and forgot to renew some of them; this resulted in at least one of them getting re-registered by somebody else as a porn site, a big embarrassment to the Navy. This would never happen with .mil domains, which are unavailable for registration by non-military entities. Also, if they used logical subdomains like dallas.navy.mil, they wouldn't have so many different domain registrations to track that they might forget to renew some of them. Using the system properly works better for everybody.

In 2003, an arm of the New Zealand government, after failing to win newzealand.com in a UDRP challenge, paid $500,000 US (over $1 million in New Zealand dollars) for that domain. This waste of taxpayers' dollars in pursuit of dot-com-itis garnered some criticism.

So, am I a hypocrite?

Some might have wondered if I was a hypocrite for using dantobias.com (and its subdomains, like domains.dantobias.com) for my personal sites (as I did before getting the current .info and .name addresses). Am I? The answer is a definite maybe. The sites aren't really commercial entities in any significant way; maybe I get a few pennies from some referral links here and there, but most of the content is there for personal expression, not commerce. On the other hand, I'm not governmental, military, or network-infrastructure either, and though you might find my site educational, I'm not a 4-year degree-granting institution, and hence can't get a .edu domain. So am I a .org? Me, organized? That doesn't quite fit, either, and if I'm a nonprofit entity, the IRS doesn't seem to acknowledge that. The sites, and their domain name, represent me as a person, and I do make money and pay taxes, so I guess I am a commercial entity after all. If there were a specific top level domain for personal sites at the time I set up these sites, I would have used it, but at the time, .com was the lesser of the "evils" in a choice that can be as unsatisfactory as the one in the voting booth. (However, though I live in Palm Beach County, I didn't cast a mistaken vote for Pat Buchanan!) And what about the geographical domains under .us? They're not particularly appealing, since, under the old .us rules, I'd have to register under a particular town, so what happens when I move? If I'd set up such an address a while back, I'd be within shreveport.la.us, which wouldn't make sense now that I'm in Florida. My aim in getting a personal domain in the first place was to give me an address (for Web and e-mail) that would be permanent regardless of changes of residence, employment, ISP, or other such factors.

Update: When the .name domain became available in early 2002, specifically intended for personal sites, I moved my "personal" site (with information about me, and some links and opinions and stuff) to dan.tobias.name, but left the specialized "techie" sites like this one in subdomains of dantobias.com. Then, later, I managed to get dan.info in the .info "Landrush 2" (after a fraudster had it for a while following the trademark-owners-only sunrise period); now I'm using that for my information sites other than the "about-me" stuff in the .name site, so I'm totally dot-com-free.

My present thinking is that, if you're registering a domain as your main personal Internet presence (web, email, etc.), using a name that's some derivative of your own name or nickname, then .name is most logical, but its firstname.lastname.name structure might be too unwieldy or inflexible for some uses (e.g., if you really want to go by a single-word nickname, like a pop star). If you can't or won't use that, .info is the next-best choice, as it's intended for all sorts of information, whether commercial or not. If you refuse to use any of the new batch of TLDs, .com is probably the best choice of the "old" TLDs, though .org is acceptable -- you might well do both commercial and noncommercial activity using your domain, so either is defensible though neither fits totally, and since there's actually a possibility (however remote) that restrictions against commercial use of .org may be enforced in the future, .com will give you more flexibility. However, if you're registering a domain for a more specific purpose, and it's a noncommercial one -- like setting up a fan site about your favorite celebrity or a campaign site if you're running for office -- then .org or .info makes more sense for this usage. I followed this guideline myself, using dantobias.com for my main personal site (until I moved it to .name later), but .org and .info domains for various special-purpose noncommercial sites I'm involved with. You'll find that a lot more good names are still available in .org and .info than .com, since the quick-buck artists aren't as interested in the non-dot-com domains.

Are Multiple TLDs Too Confusing?

As part of the general dumbing-down of the Internet as it went mainstream and commercial, there seems to be a sizable body of opinion to the effect that having more than one TLD, with different sites potentially found at the same name in a different TLD, is "too confusing" for the user. Some ICANN dispute panels have held such opinions, regarding a domain as cybersquatting by definition if it matched the name of a famous site in a different TLD. However, I think that part of the charm and serendipity that makes the Internet so interesting is the fact that there can be highly diverse things under the same name in different parts of the namespace. For instance, look at what I found when I looked up the famous initials C.I.A. in various domains...

  • cia.gov: Central Intelligence Agency
  • cia.edu: Cleveland Institute of Art
  • cia.com: Used to be a parody site, now redirects to the site of some Canadian ISP
  • cia.net: Was Cleveland Internet Association, now just a parking page
  • cia.co.uk: CIA Worldwide Media Co. (doesn't seem to be functional now)
  • cia.org.uk: Chemical Industries Association
  • cia.com.au: Connect Infobahn Australia (seems to be just a menu linking to various other sites)
  • cia.com.mx: Consultoría Informática Administrativa
  • cia.ca: Conseillers en informatique d'affaires
  • cia.fr: Some French company with the initials CIA (seems to just be a parking page now)
  • cia.de: Cologne Internet Agency (also seems to have turned into a parking page)
  • cia.ru: Something in Russian
  • cia.org: Seems to go to a blank page
  • cia.to: Something in German
  • cia.nu: Parking page
  • cia.biz: One of those useless "portal" pages that half the domains on the net have
  • cia.info: Another of those "portal" pages
  • cia.us: Reserved by Neustar along with various other government-related names.

And the Culinary Institute of America didn't even manage to get any of them!

Some corporate types would like to bulldoze over all of this variety in order to make the Internet safe for their marketing schemes. And some sleazeballs are playing into their hands by registering lots of domains that resemble famous addresses and putting up obnoxious sites that pop up lots of annoying windows at people who go there by mistake, creating some public sentiment against "cybersquatters". However, there is plenty of reasonable use of similar names in different TLDs, for different companies and organizations that happen to have similar names or acronyms, as well as by people operating protest or parody sites that have valid fair-use rights to the name. Suppressing all of them would make the Internet a poorer place. Maybe the big corporate types would like the Internet to have the homogeneity of a shopping mall or fast food chain, but is that in the interests of the users?

I'm part of this problem, or part of the charm of the Internet (depending on your viewpoint) myself, since I run a fan site about the singer Tiffany that's located at tiffany.org, coexisting in the DNS namespace with the famous jeweler Tiffany & Co., which has its site at tiffany.com. I just happened to get that .org address first; in an alternate universe, it might have been grabbed by a collector of Tiffany lamps or by a person named Tiffany wanting to put up a personal Web site. Any of these things would be more interesting than the Corporate Internet Approach (another "CIA" there!) where the famous jeweler simply registers tiffany.Whatever in every possible TLD so that they all go to their site, and everybody using that name to describe anything else, whether lamps or pop singers, is just out of luck. (I've noticed that tiffany.tk goes to a page that's apparently making fun of the singer, by putting a mustache on her album cover.)

Reserved Names

It's been a contentious issue regarding the new TLDs whether there should be any "reserved names" that are protected from being registered in any new TLD without special authorization. Various entities have proposed all sorts of things, from globally famous trademarks to geographic place names to generic drug names, to be reserved. It's a lesser-known fact that the current TLDs have some reserved names in effect already. They were snuck in recently as part of revisions to the contract between ICANN and Verisign to operate the registry for .com, .net, and .org. See the reserved names. Names on the reserve list are barred from registration, but anyone who already has such a name is still allowed to renew it. Among reserved words are all one and two letter names, the names of other TLDs (current and proposed), and various words and acronyms that relate to ICANN or IANA (the organizations that run the domain name system). Supposedly, if any of them "drop" due to nonrenewal, deletion by request of registrant, or cancellation by UDRP panel, they should be reserved from subsequent registration, but that doesn't seem to actually be practiced consistently; I've seen reports on forums of people managing to get two-letter domains that dropped.

It's rumored that one-letter domains may be opened up at some point, and people are already jockeying around to claim them or threaten to sue anybody else who does. See this commentary.

Want to grab an expired name?

Because of the boom-and-bust cycle of Internet business ventures, a lot of names expire due to nonrenewal at the "bust" part of the cycle, because they were registered by speculators who never managed to unload them, or they were registered as part of a failed and bankrupt e-commerce scheme. Some pretty good names drop back into the available pool as a result, giving other people a chance to get them.

Unfortunately, there are still enough speculators and opportunists around that they have created problems in the registration system in their attempts to get the expired names the second they become available. Since expired domains were dropped in batches at 6:30 AM (Eastern time), a few registrars overloaded the connections to the registry database at that time to check on the status of names they're interested in and attempt to grab them first.

Because of this, ICANN announced a temporary change in policy in 2001 at Verisign's request, imposing a temporary moratorium on releasing any expired domains until a scheme can be instituted to get them back into the general pool without causing undue strain on the database. However, after a couple of weeks a new announcement indicated that release of expired domains would resume on Aug. 30, 2001, with new restrictions on access to the registry by automated scripts to prevent the congestion that occurred before. Releases will now take place at 18:00 UTC (2 PM EDT).

Verisign has long been accused of holding back expired domains so that they can be channeled into its own domain-auction business, but they have always denied this.

Making ".com" Part of your Company Name?

It was trendy for a while for new (and newly renamed) Internet companies to use their domain name (suffix and all) as their legal corporate name, so that they're "SomeStupidName.Com, Inc." This is a barbarism, in my opinion. Students of Carnegie Mellon University don't say they're attending "CMU.Edu" (except, perhaps, in a semi-humorous vein when chatting with other Internet buffs). The Internet site is a distinct entity from the company or organization which owns it, and the ".com" (or ".org", ".edu", etc.) address designates the site, not the company. A company going onto the Internet should pick a domain name based in some manner on its name (e.g, IBM has "ibm.com" and Microsoft has "microsoft.com"), but naming the company after the Internet site is "putting the cart before the horse." It strikes me kind of like naming your company "Post Office Box 1234, Inc." after where people send you mail. It's shortsighted, anyway; in 10 or 20 years, are you sure people will still even be using ".com" addresses for Internet sites? Maybe other top-level domains will be "trendier" then, or else the whole Domain Name System will be scrapped in favor of something else. Do you really want to attach a temporarily-significant part of today's addressing system as part of your permanent company name? (I guess some companies do -- witness 1-800-FLOWERS.Com, which embeds two temporarily-significant addressing systems in its name!)

Note: Since I wrote the above, a few years ago, there seems to be a rising trend to imitate that flower seller by using domain names based on phone numbers... I keep running into them in advertising these days. I guess some of the marketing types think that they can kill two birds with one stone and advertise both the phone number and Web site this way. It looks pretty silly to me, however, to have a completely superfluous 1-800- at the start of a Web address. Among those rushing into this latest lunacy are several nonprofits and government agencies who seem to think that this (complete with an inapppropriate .com TLD for their noncommercial sites) is just the ticket for promoting their public-information sites and telephone hotlines at once.

Competing flower-seller FTD, despite a long offline history, insists on using the Internet-centric "FTD.com" name even in places where it makes no sense. For instance, the bonus offers one can redeem from a credit card company include one that says it's from FTD.com, but the fine print on how to use it says "Certificate must be redeemed by calling the number shown on the certificate. Only one certificate can be used per order. Certificates cannot be redeemed on-line." In other words, you can't use the bonus certificate at FTD.com, just at the offline, mundane-world FTD, reachable by telephone just as it was before the Internet existed.

I predicted from the start that, way before ".com" becomes technically obsolete as an addressing scheme, the "glamour" of naming companies this way would wear off and the predictable backlash would strike as happens with anything faddish or trendy for a moment, so that, when you introduce a potential client or investor to your company named "SomeSillyThing.Com", he or she will sneer, "That's so '90s!" Eventually it seemed like the "real world" was finally catching up to me, and in fact companies began to rush to remove .com from their names.

The backlash actually started showing up even before the "tech crash" of 2000. Some business-press writers used "dot-coms" as a somewhat sneering reference to more-hype-than-substance Internet companies. Even TV Guide got tired of "dot-com" companies intruding on Super Bowl viewers, making some sneering references to them in their special Super Bowl issue. And a Washington Post article criticized "silly dot-coms."

When the tech-stock downturn began, a commentator in the libertarian political magazine Liberty said that "It's true, of course, that people can improve their odds by putting their money into companies that actually make a profit, as opposed to companies that just put 'dot com' in their names and let it go at that." Somebody in San Francisco conducted an "anti-dot-com" campaign, putting up stickers lampooning "dot-com mania" by "promoting" such ridiculous and nonexistent sites as AnythingIFoundInMyGarageForSale.com, according to a Wired article; however, he found it hard to make his parodies sillier than the real e-commerce marketing campaigns, leading many people who see his stickers to think they're promoting actual sites. Meanwhile, the Swedish trademark office announced that they were no longer allowing the registration of company names containing domain or URL suffixes or prefixes, like .com, .se (the Swedish country code), or http://www, according to The Standard. Those were among the "early adopters" of the anti-dot-com backlash (besides me!), but now that position has become mainstream, and companies stick domain suffixes on their names at their own peril.

However, these things seem to go in pendulum swings, and by the middle of the 2000s decade, there seemed to be something of a resurgence of "dot-com-ization". Will this ever end???

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office hasn't taken Sweden's absolute position against it, but they do have this to say on the subject of people trying to obtain trademarks on words with .com appended (in the paragraph below, TLD means Top Level Domain, such as .com or .org):

When a trademark, service mark, collective mark or certification mark is composed, in whole or in part, of a domain name, neither the beginning of the URL (http://www.) nor the TLD have any source indicating significance. Instead, those designations are merely devices that every Internet site provider must use as part of its address. Today, advertisements for all types of products and services routinely include a URL for the web site of the advertiser. Just as the average person with no special knowledge recognizes "800" or "1-800" followed by seven digits or letters as one of the prefixes used for every toll-free phone number, the average person familiar with the Internet recognizes the format for a domain name and understands that "http," "www," and a TLD are a part of every URL.
-- http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/tac/notices/guide299.htm

Note: Another problem with companies including ".com" in their names used to be that it made it harder to retrieve information on some domains in WhoIs, or other services like CheckDomain that make use of the InterNIC WhoIs server to find information about domains. The way WhoIs normally works is that you type in the domain name, like whatever.com, and it returns information on who owns this domain and what servers host it. But WhoIs also allowed you to type in a company name, and returns the domain(s) registered to the given company. Because of this, if the company's name was Whatever.com, Inc., and they owned a bunch of other domains besides their namesake domain (a rather crazy concept, if you think about it; first, they use their original domain as their company name to make it into a brand identity; then, they dilute this identity by using lots of other names, too! Go figure!), you might end up getting a big list of domains in response when you were really just trying to find the info on whatever.com itself. And if the list was really long, it was truncated by the server and might not even include the actual domain you were trying to find in the first place. (In a few cases, I've even run into companies that registered a whole heap of domains under a name like Whatever.Com, Inc., but didn't own the actual domain whatever.com itself! How ridiculous!) But such situations made it a pain to try to use WhoIs to find out who does own that domain. However, later revisions to WhoIs following the creation of competing registrars seem to have eliminated this problem.

Even sillier than companies naming themselves "something.com" is the faddish use of ".com" names for everything else whose owner wants to sound "trendy" and "with it". On discussion-forum and opinion-writing websites, where participants must choose a username to identify themselves, some have used something ending in ".com", and they often don't even own the actual domain name in question. They just think they're being "cute" by appending ".com" to their name or nickname, but that could get them in trouble; read about the katie.com case, where a book publisher used "katie.com" as the title of a book without actually owning the domain, to the consternation of the domain's actual owner who doesn't like being associated with the book (which is about somebody being seduced by an online pedophile). A lawsuit might even result. Please, people, if you absolutely must name yourself, your company, your car, your dog, or your left big toe, something cutesy with ".com" (or another domain suffix) at the end, make sure you actually own that domain... it looks really stupid otherwise. And, whatever you do, please resist the impulse to get your name legally changed to something with .com at the end, like this guy!

Has a Domain Record been Hacked?

A topic that comes up frequently in forums related to domain names is that somebody has just done a WHOIS query on some famous domain name, and got a result that includes such odd entries as MICROSOFT.COM.WAREZ.AT.TOPLIST.GULLI.COM, and they want to know if this means that microsoft.com has just been hacked. No, it hasn't; it's just a "misfeature" of the WHOIS query system that it returns all registered DNS server names that include "microsoft.com" as a substring, including ones that are actually just subdomains of other domains. Some people take perverse pleasure out of setting up servers with such weird names to tweak their nose at (in)famous sites like those of Microsoft and AOL.

Links

  • InterNIC -- Formerly went to the monopoly registrar site of Network Solutions, but now gives a list of accredited registrars you can choose from.
  • Network Solutions -- the company which formerly had a monopoly over .com, .net, .org, and .edu. In recent months, the site has taken on a considerably "dumbed-down" style (they try to avoid "complicated technical terms" like "domain name" and instead call them "Dot Com Web Addresses (tm)", and they've removed all pretense of trying to encourage people to register under the proper suffix based on their type of organization and now try to sell registrants on getting all three endings, .com, .net, and .org, to stop competitors from grabbing a confusingly similar name).
  • Article about some of the sillier domain names that were registered and are now being allowed to expire.

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This page was first created 14 Mar 2001, and was last modified 21 Sep 2013.
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