Even those lacking Internet savvy know that .com is the most common domain suffix and have come to expect it in nearly every Web address — with a few exceptions, such as .org or .gov. But a new ability to register more specific domain names could change that.
The Internet’s global governing body has opened up about 2,000 domain name extensions — such as .ski, .homes, .travel — to include a whole host of alternatives that, in theory, will benefit consumers, companies and other organizations offering niche products or services. For the marine industry, Dominion Marine Media now has the ability to register the premium domain names .boats or .yachts for a price starting at $149 a year.
“For the first time in the history of the Internet we’re able to create a verified and gated community of marine Internet sites where users can be free of doubt in who or what they’re dealing with,” says Ian Atkins, president of Dominion Marine Media.
These are only two of several more descriptive domain names that are becoming available, according to Atkins. DMM parent company Dominion Enterprises launched a new arm, Dominion Registries, that will offer the sale of domains in industries they serve: .autos, .boats, .homes, .motorcycles and .yachts.
It’s too soon to say whether .boats and .yachts — known as premium domain names — will take hold, but they could benefit boating companies that decide to adopt them, Atkins says. “We’re pretty sure it’s going to take root because of the companies that have come in very early” — such as Amazon, Google, Oracle and Rolex.
Premium domain names are considered to be the future. “It’s too early to say whether that’s true, but we think it will be,” Atkins says.
The idea is that boating companies will strengthen their presence with navigation services that more specifically reach target audiences, Atkins says. Also, the restrictive nature of .boats and .yachts ensures that companies are credible and verified supporters of the boating or yachting industries, which will ultimately help increase consumer confidence in a business’s online identity. It can also help protect trademarks from competitors and “cybersquatters” who attempt to pick off a company’s traffic.
Dominion Registries will oversee the registration of the premium domains to maintain the integrity of the companies using the extensions, Atkins says. That places the burden on Dominion of ensuring the legitimacy of companies that apply for the domain names.
“As the registrar for these domains, it’s a real responsibility for us. We have to effectively approve the applications. If someone clearly isn’t in the boat business, based on research, and is trying to pretend they are so they can obtain one of these premium domain names, we have the opportunity to say no.”
However, applicants wouldn’t have to be specific players in the boatbuilding or dealership space, Atkins says. “I can’t stress that enough. The premium domain names would be available to anyone that has even a tentative connection to the boat space.”
Assignment of premium domain names that are likely to be more coveted — Miami.yachts, for example — will have to be “appropriate,” Atkins says. A company seeking to acquire the rights to a domain name such as that can’t just be someone trying to build a business; it will have to be a business with a verified interest in the industry. Therefore, some of the bigger, more compelling names are on a reserved list and will require applicants to “jump through more hoops,” Atkins says.
Though Dominion Registries has rights to the domain names for the five industries listed, it is not the exclusive registrar to them. “There is no exclusivity here to us,” Atkins says. “We own the rights to the domains, but we don’t own the rights to sell them. There are people in the business of selling domains, like godaddy.com.” Dominion works with these registrars to sell domain names to the public.
Those more generic resellers can get challenged if they make a wrong decision, Atkins says. Dominion thinks it can assess applicants more easily than others with less experience because the company is so familiar with those industries. “Anybody can apply to be a reseller, though,” he says. “It’s another business.”
The whole process is regulated by ICANN — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — the entity that monitors the way domain names are designated so the process is fair to everyone, Atkins says. “We have to treat everybody the same,” he says. “We just feel like we know the difference between valid applications and an invalid one.”
ICANN is the arbiter of the domain names, but the group doesn’t legislate or police. There are rules, there is an escalation process if there are challenges, and there are ways of reaching agreements.
If a competitive situation were to arise, the only fair way to resolve it would be through auctioning it, but “that would be a long time out,” Atkins says. “How it plays out, we don’t really know. We have engaged a couple of consultants, so we got two points of view on the best and fairest way to approach it.”
For those entities that do take these on for the annual fee, the .com versions of the websites would still be available and later cached in servers to make it easy to access during the transition period, Atkins says.
“A lot of companies are choosing to have two sites running side by side, with the new domain for very specific sites,” he says. “I think it will be a long time before anyone decides to shut down their .com. We have to keep on saying there is so much more about this we don’t know than we do. We’ve been spending a year and a half on this. There’s no silver-bullet approach. It’s going to be a lengthy process of watching people experiment with different approaches to see what works and what doesn’t.”
However, there is “a long-term objective that we’re bound to tell people as they apply,” he adds. “It needs to become their principal website name over time. Nobody’s saying out with the old and in with the new, but in order to get the full value out of it, it needs to be a registrant’s principal online brand.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue.