ICANN threatens to change the rules of the domain name game

You may be used to typing in top-level domains (TLDs) like .com, .net or .edu when heading to websites, but the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) hopes to change that with a decision to open new TLDs for registration, according to today’s Wall Street Journal.

Under the new rule, ICANN would let anyone with $50,000 to $100,000 register any TLD they want, so for example, a web address could become paras.wadehra, rather than paraswadehra.com.

The WSJ has more on what the decision may mean for regular consumers and businesses, but there are also a couple ways it could change the Internet landscape for startups — most notably, domain speculators like Demand Media and Marchex.

Those companies, and other speculators, have plowed billions of dollars into millions of hot domain names, sometimes backed by high-profile investors like Oak Investment Partners or, for Marchex, public shareholders. The idea is generally to buy up lots of obvious domain names, like business.com, which holds the sales record at $350 million. Most good names that are auctioned get less, but still routinely receive six figures.

Those domains are worth so much because of a kind of traffic called type-in traffic, which is distinct from search traffic from Google or linked traffic. Right now, if a web surfer — especially an unsavvy one — wants to find, say, exchange rates, they might type exchangerates.com in hopes of finding an exchange calculator (they’d be disappointed).

Although the strategies of the two companies are different (Marchex, notably, wants to build out a locality-based content business), they both rely on one crucial assumption: that the dominant TLDs, primarily .com, continue to be the first thing people type in when they’re looking for something, whether it’s exchange rates or Disney.com. So what happens if ICANN manages to reeducate Internet users, and popularize sales of new TLDs?

The simple answer is that a lot of speculators will lose a lot of their own, and their investors’ money. While Demand and Marchex might be able to build up viable content portals around sites like chicagodoctors.com, the money they plowed into those names will be meaningless — as well spent on chicago.docs or chicago.dr, or any other name you can imagine. The game will become even more about search, type-ins traffic will wither.

There’s a strong counter-argument to ICANN’s action having any real affect on .com, though. There are already dozens of top-level domains, but they are thinly used, even purposed ones like .mobi (for mobile phones). The introduction of more TLDs over the years has not seen sales of hot domains diminish, which by extension probably means speculators are making as much as ever.

That may hold true, or it may be that ICANN has finally found a way to shift attention from .com, with the possibility for new TLDs that are actually meaningful or logical.

And a final argument is that it does seem unreasonable that 10 or 15 years from now, we’ll still be typing .com in for every major website. The Internet is a place of rapid change, and at some point, .com will start seeming archaic and unnecessary. But any real change would require a massive re-engineering of the web’s user-interface, at the very least, so it’s hard to imagine what those changes might be from here.

Avenue A | Razorfish wiki mention in Infoworld

It’s pretty interesting how the press and our clients continue to find our internal knowledge management wiki to be interesting. Here Infoworld captures some thoughts from Shiv Singh on why we built the wiki. It’s all about bringing some of the innovations from the consumer facing world into Enterprises. Learning from the consumer world to help enterprises is going to take some time. What I think enterprises need to acknowledge is that collaboration isn’t easy, so the technology needs to make it easy. If we ask folks to open a ticket or get permission every time they want to contribute to collaboration it’s just not going to happen. Like Shiv said, we have found people behave just as professionally in the office as they do on the wiki, so let’s trust them to use open technologies.

It’s not just the features we are talking about either. The technologies behind these platforms are interesting as well. Some of the biggest most successful sites out there aren’t build on enterprise technologies. Mediawiki, the software behind Wikipedia, is built on PHP not Java or .Net. Not only can we learn from consumer facing behaviors, we can also learn from consumer facing technologies. What’s nice about technologies like PHP is their ability to start up quickly and change just as quickly. Something that has gotten harder and harder for J2EE and .Net. After all, the one constant with web sites, is change.

Google Gears and the offline/online trend

With Google Gears, Adobe Air, and Microsoft WPF there’s definitely lots of exciting changes in the desktop application area. Using the openness of the web to crack open the ‘closed’ nature of regular documents that we use today. At the recent Avenue A | Razorfish Enterprise Solutions summit, Andrew McAfee asked the audience who works on documents alone. Only one person in the room of 70  people raised the hand (still not sure why:)). The point is that we collaborate on everything we do and the traditional method of document revisions and changes is much slower than real-time changes and updates ala wiki style technology. The challenge is applying that to all the tools we use on a daily basis. How can we make code changes more collaborative and less of a check-in, check-out, merge model?

LiveMesh, the new 'synchronization' platform from Microsoft

Think about an online-offline silverlight-wpf application that synchronizes your files using LiveMesh.

I like the name. I finally see the Live brand starting to come together for Microsoft. Now all it needs is some more market awareness. So, what is LiveMesh? It’s basically a new, invite only for now, platform that allows people to sync across all devices. Windows only for now, but that seems like it will open up, especially since it can be expressed as ATOM, JSON, FeedSync, WB-XML, or plain old XML.

In a previous post, I spoke about Google Gears and their technology to bring together the off-line and on-line world. LiveMesh is actually

The more I switch across laptops, machines, etc. The more I yearn for a cloud to contain everything. I recently moved away from Trillian to Meebo, just so I had one less desktop application I was tied to. This way any machine I go to I have my instant messaging list available. Moving to a web based outlook as good as the desktop outlook would be a welcome addition. That being said, at the end of the day I want both. Especially as I write this post from the plane offline using the desktop application, Windows Live Writer.