The evolution of domain names and what it means for the domain industry


At the time of this writing, there are over 1.8 billion live websites around the world. In 1985, when the world’s first .com domain was registered, there were only six. Such an exponential increase in just 36 years is hardly surprising. In fact, it seems like an obvious progression considering that launching a website today goes hand in hand with starting something new.

Fortunately, while the World Wide Web offers endless space for anyone to build a website, the same cannot be said for domain names. With a surge in domain registrations, the good old .com is saturating. Nothing is perhaps more revealing of this saturation than Verisign’s confession, justifying that it needs the .web TLD because it lacks .com domain names.

It was to combat this overcrowding of legacy extensions and to expand the availability of quality domain names that new Top Level Domains (nTLDs) were introduced almost a decade ago. For me, that too was an obvious progression.

Historically, most naming conventions have seen similar developments. For example, with the increase in population, the two-digit zip codes in the United States have been replaced by Five-digit Area Improvement Plan (ZIP) codes.

Phone numbers are also passed as many iterations like the phone itself, ranging from alphanumeric numbers to 5-7 digit numbers to the now large 10 digit number.

Just like postal codes and phone numbers, two entities cannot have the same domain name (they are, after all, the “OG NFT” except domains have real utility too much); and that’s why nTLDs make sense.

So where are we at this stage of domain name evolution?

I believe we are going through the Early Adopters / Visionaries phase (see graph below) for nTLDs at this point. It was not easy for nTLDs to be universally accepted instantly, especially since not all nTLDs are created the same.

At Radix, we have seen a clear difference between the trends and user behavior relating to each of our TLDs. While .Tech has been naturally adopted by startups, .Store and .Online have been adopted by online vendors. .Site has been the nTLD of choice for professional services and .Space has been popular among artists, real estate spaces, space companies as well as generic online businesses.

Not all of these target groups inherently know and understand domain names, let alone new domain extensions. For the majority of people all over the world, including countries like India, a website still means .com.

At the other end of the spectrum are global companies such as Viacom and Emirates that adopted nTLDs early on. More recently, new-age startups such as Doordash (www.command.online), Aurora (www.aurora.tech), and even Netflix (www.netflix.shop) have strategically integrated nTLDs into their growth plans.

These are just a few of the many examples of visionary early-stage users able to see the value of nTLDs that the rest of the world has yet to experience.

Skepticism towards nTLDs… and any other “new” industry

Personally, I find a skepticism towards new domain extensions similar to that faced by many other industries. Whenever something revolutionary comes along, fear and resistance follow suit. It happened with electric car. The same story repeats itself with products that arrived long after an incumbent benefited from network effects and was the de facto choice.

For all the potential of cryptocurrency, they also suffer from similar criticisms or misunderstandings. In fact, cryptocurrency has more than its fair share of opponents, especially people like Charlie Munger. It is difficult to ignore the obvious conflict of interest when those who benefit most from the established order are the first those who cry for change.

But then, not all cryptos are created equal; not all domain extensions are. Meme-cryptos or penny TLDs are unlikely to be sustainable in the long run, and it is intellectually lazy to confuse all new domain extensions using a bogus equivalence, especially in the domains industry.

The same people who applauded as El Salvador became the first country to pass a bill adopting Bitcoin as the official currency alongside the USD still unequivocally deny the growing importance of new domain extensions. The cognitive dissonance of believing in a future with cryptos and not new domain extensions is interesting to see.

Another parallel can be drawn with the exodus of technological talent from Silicon Valley to Austin and Miami.

The tech community is fed up with anti-tech sentiment in California despite its contributions to the local economy. In some ways, this parallel Verisign calls people who buy domains to resell them at higher prices “domain scalpers”; eminent voices have expressed their disagreement over increasingly higher taxes in California, which they find unjustifiable. This is similar to the efforts of communities like the Internet Commerce Association (ICA) who stand up against .com price increase that they seem to have little say.

While the incumbent is sleeping behind the wheel, alternatives like Miami and Austin are keep users away and new businesses are springing up in these new “fields” – whether in the physical world or on the Internet. Eventually, widespread adoption and use (in the case of nTLDs) will change the perception and normalize these alternatives, making them evident in hindsight.

Not only that, the current state of unrest in San Francisco is a great reminder that protecting the rights of end users is of utmost importance. SF citizens are fight to protect oneself from crime by callback request the current public prosecutor. This is akin to registries like us actively protecting our end customers by minimizing domain abuse within our TLDs. If we do not secure our namespace, it will affect those who have chosen to reside there virtually. Lowering the guard is not an option.

Startups are often early adopters, and an interesting data point is the share of YC Demo Day startups who are on a .com has shrunk by 15% in just a few years.

How Radix contributes to the evolution of domain names

At Radix, our vision is to build a world where domain names are less like phone numbers that need to be written down and stored, and more like brand names that are easy to remember. Every business deserves a short, relevant and recognizable domain name that adds brand value and improves customer perception.

However, premium domain names often have a cost of up to several hundred thousand dollars. The high cost of premium domains in exchange for branding benefits is not always financially acceptable, especially for new and small businesses. There is an understandable apprehension about spending huge sums of money up front. What if we made the wrong choice? What if the company decides to take another direction?

This led us to change our pricing model for premium domains. With this, just like a SaaS model, end users can pay for an affordable annual subscription instead of thousands of dollars at a time. This prevents them from overburdening their marketing budget.

On the marketing side, our goal has always been to penetrate new communities to create awareness of nTLDs in a creative way. In 2016, we launched League of startups to engage with start-ups. Earlier this year, we launched Pitch.Tech to engage with entrepreneurs in the idea phase. With Break the code we connected with programmers and with MyStartInTech we connected with tech professionals.

These are just a few of the many campaigns we have launched in the past. The ones the Radix team is currently working on are even bigger and bigger radical than ever; and I can’t wait for you to see them all launch in the near future.

What excites me the most, however, is working in an industry that has yet to hit its peak. Things are changing rapidly and will continue to change. We have to keep in mind that any change is aimed at filling gaps in the system, and nTLDs bridge the gap between demand and supply while introducing much needed freshness. The way remote working has allowed people to disperse, the evolution of domain names democratizes the availability of good addresses to disperse beyond legacy extensions. The future of nTLDs looks bright, and those who are late to the party (or haven’t heard of the party at all) will be surprised.

Written by Karn Jajoo Senior Manager at Radix. A version of this article originally appeared on DNJournal.com.



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