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Consumers think limitless domains will muddy internet waters

Almost two thirds of consumers believe that the opening of the internet's addressing system to a limitless number of domain names will clog the internet with pointless domain names, according to a survey.10 Jun 2009

French domain registrar Gandi.net asked 1,000 consumers about ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers)'s plan to lift restrictions on generic top level domains (gTLDs). It plans to allow almost any term to form a domain.

The Gandi survey found that 65% of the people it interviewed thought the move would create a jumble of pointless domain names, while 57% thought it would be confusing. It found that 46% of those people thought it would make the internet harder to navigate, while 41% thought it would send it out of control.

The 100 UK businesses surveyed were more positive about the move, with 75% welcoming the move.

The study found that consumers had concerns about the trustworthiness of sites located at new domains. Many more found long-established domains such as .uk or .com more worthy of their trust than recent additions such as .biz or proposed domains such as .eco.

Consumers were not even hugely enthusiastic about the prospect of more personalised domains. Just 15% think that a domain ending in .theirprofession, for example, would be appealing.

The report outlined the kind of confusions that the change could create.

"Consumers will be unable to distinguish which is the valid website. Do they visit microsoft.com/sales or sales.microsoft? If they are searching for the London Symphony Orchestra online, do they choose lso.com, lso.music or lso.london?" it said.

Businesses also showed some reluctance to accept the change. The report talked to Tracy Abraham, the head of new media marketing and communications at TV station Channel 4.

"It is hard enough trying to get people to remember the bit that comes before the dot, let alone after it,", she said, explaining that on youth channel More4 the company does not use URLs, but just asks viewers to 'search for More4'.

"Most of our traffic comes from Google, and it is better for consumers if they come straight to the page they are interested in, rather than having to trawl through the website. It is arrogant for us to assume that people will remember a URL," she said.

The plan has prompted fears about increased cybersquatting and trade mark defence costs for businesses. Though ICANN's fee for setting up a domain is $185,000, experts have said that the set up costs could reach $2 million.

The costs will make it unlikely that companies will have to fight top level domain squatters. According to trade mark law experts, though, the proposal could cause companies headaches because they will have to monitor many more gTLDs for sub-domains that infringe their rights.

Gandi's survey found that half of the businesses it talked to register their website with all the largest domain name extensions and 41% with all the available domain extensions to prevent cybersquatting.

"60% of businesses with less than 10 staff register their domain against the largest top-level domains, but fewer (36%) can afford to register against all available domains," the report said. "Once a potentially limitless number of extensions become available, it will be impossible, or at least very expensive, for companies to get [their name at all the domains]."

ICANN recently announced that it would take longer than it previously thought to establish the new domains. Applications will now not be taken for the domains until early in 2010 it said last month.