The Internet has done as much as the jet engine to shrink the distance between where we are and where we want to go. Even the propeller-type connectivity of dial-up was a giant leap forward.
But as much as the technology has allowed us to go with ease to any place we choose — to learn, to be heard, to promote — equally powerful is the platform’s ability to help us gather. The phenomena of social media services like LinkedIn and Facebook are present day proof of this human urge.
It is the ability to gather rather than just go that will be the most important outcome of the recent decision by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — ICANN — to allow the unlimited expansion of domain names. A “Big Bang” that is potentially more meaningful than any development since the launch of the browser.
Most web users are familiar and comfortable with Internet addresses ending in .com or .org or .net. These are the generic top level domains, or gTLDs, that have been the most recognizable marks on the web. Now, though, companies, communities and cultural groups will have the opportunity to own their own landscape.
The most successful will be those that draw people more closely together rather than just serve as pointers to some distant corner of cyberspace. While it is true that a .ibm or .coke or .orange will be additional marketing channels, they are a better investment in customer loyalty. So, too, is a .music or .green or .gay an innovative way to create a center of gravity to help inform, fund and advocate.
Even a “dead language,” like Latin, could see a rejuvenation (from the Latin root iuvenis, meaning “young”) should a .latin gTLD be created. There are already translation engines online, but this new space could be a forum (yes, pun intended) for those with the interest.
This ought to draw keen attention from companies dependent upon keeping and growing customer relationships at a time when the cost of acquisition continues to rise.
For consumer-facing companies, already accustomed to multi-million dollar advertising expenditures, the cost of applying for, operating and promoting participation in their own Internet neighborhoods will be a familiar if not intuitive calculation. But even those companies without the comfort of such a track record, they should view the possibility to own a new gTLD as a reason to rethink their approach.
Ultimately, a new gTLD will not be for everyone. Will a product company like .levi be as useful as a service mark like .amex? Will a city designation like .nyc supplant travel guides like .orbitz? Will cultural groups convene or will it all be .greek to me?
As new Internet landscape opens for development, it will be — it must be — more than just more of the same. It is an opportunity to create relationships that are as deep as they are wide.