Yesterday the independent organization that controls the internet’s domain naming system voted to approve branded top level domains (TLDs). What are these? They’re part of a web address: “.com” is a top level domain. So is .org, .net, .uk, etc. So with branded TLDs, a brand (or any organization with the finances and capabilities) could apply for “.brand” or “.whatever” rather than “brand.com” or “whatever.com”. On first glance, it sounds good: more brand, a bit more intuitive, less internet lingo.
Do a google search to find plenty of blog posts arguing the many sides of this: Are branded TLDs good for brands? Will they ever compete with .com? Are they worth the huge expense and upkeep fees? Should brands take advantage of this? I wont recap the arguments here, but I would like to make a commentary on URLs and TLDs as they relate to brands.
I believe domain names are an expedient form of a technological limitation. And branded TLDs are an example of treating this limitation as a feature.
Most design students have read the “crystal goblet” essay by Beatrice Warde, where a perfect wine goblet is described as one which reveals and brings out the qualities of the wine, and does not draw attention to the goblet itself. I feel largely the same way with domain names. The perfect goblet of domain names – the grail if you will – is when domain names become intuitive if not disappear to the user all together and live behind the scenes.
Think of it in terms of phone numbers. IP addresses are like phone numbers – a series of numbers to represent a specific location. With URLs, we don’t need to remember the numbers. Instead of remembering 188.8.131.52, I can just remember “google.com”. It’s an expedient form of routing technology, and it’s a good start.
Of course there can only be one “google.com” which gets associated with that IP address. But phones have evolved past this. I can tell my phone “Dial Amanda.” The system has been designed for flexibility to match each individual owner’s needs. There doesn’t have to be only one “Amanda” in the world. The phone calls my wife’s number, as opposed to any other Amanda I know – or anyone else knows.
On the TLD side, quite a few blogs have pointed out the number of major “United” companies: United Healthcare, United Airlines, United Technologies. Suggesting that only one of these companies could use .united – the most intuitive name for each – does not seem like an acceptable solution.
Browsers, search and other tools are advancing at a rapid pace. Tools are weighing context, location, history, etc to not only guess – but anticipate – our online destinations. Already I can just type “coke” into most browsers and not have to remember if it is coke.com, .coke, cocacola.com, coca-cola.com, etc. It just goes. This is looking at the problem from a brand and user experience point of view rather than a technological point of view.
So branded TLDs are the big news of today. Am I excited about the possibilities? Sure. But I find it novel, though not particularly smart. I’m more excited about moving URLs, web addresses and the other infrastructure of the web to the background, and finding more innovative ways to meet a brand’s URL needs and anticipate a user’s intent and destination.