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Jan 18, 2002: Top Level Tiff

Everyone should know by now that there are new top-level domains abounding. Some, such as .biz, .info, and .name, are operational; others, such as .aero, .pro (for certified professionals), and .coop (for chickens) are being considered. These have been devised to address the growing demand for domains, much like new area codes help solve scaling problems for the telephone numbering system.

But like area codes, the scheme is klugey, patchy and probably quite confusing for most. Granted, it's difficult to graft new terms onto an established and recognized set (e.g., .com, .gov, .mil). But what exactly should be the difference between www.nakedbungeejumping.com and www.nakedbungeejumping.biz?

Confused? You'll just go to the InterNIC for the official definitions, right? And when you're done, don't forget to talk to me about this bridge I'm trying to sell...

These suffixes are practically synonymous. And as the current classification scheme is already muddled, it's certain that the new suffixes will further muddy the waters.

I'm going to play Jakob Nielsen for a moment and try out some numbers. I'll preface by stating how silly I think these types of calculations really are. (I'll save that rant for another Bloug entry.) But heck, they are simple to do and just plain fun. So here goes:

Let's say that there are 100,000,000 regular users of the Web.

Let's say that each of them tries to look up a company's web site without knowing the correct URL five times per year*. This would happen 500,000,000 times per year.

Let's say that 90% of the time, the domain name ending in ".com" is the correct one*. If we eliminate those, we're left with 50,000,000 times per year that users have to look beyond the ".com" suffix.

Let's say that those users become pretty confused by the new top-level domain suffixes. They try different variants, and maybe, just maybe, they figure out the correct URL.

Let's say that all this takes each of them about one minute*. So we have 50,000,000 minutes (or 833,000 hours or 34,722 days or about 1,141 months or over 95 years) that are spent inefficiently due to confusion over the naming scheme.

And let's say that everyone's minute of time is worth twenty five cents. That's not a lot: US$15 per hour, including benefits and use of the espresso machine. So how much did those 50,000,000 minutes cost the global economy?

$12,500,000.

Hmmm. I did try to make my calculations err toward the conservative. But $12.5M isn't as awful a number as I thought it would be. I thought there would be at least one more zero. (That darned Jakob; his numbers are always so much more interesting!)

I do know that I won't be happy wasting even those five minutes per year. Especially if I don't succeed at figuring out the right URL. The cost of not finding information is immeasurable.

And I'll bet dollars to donuts that the folks responsible for the top-level domains did not hire the services of an information architect, librarian, or usability engineer to help design and test the scheme.

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* Nope, not the product of actual user testing. My guess it that user testing would produce scarier numbers than these.

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Comment: Andrew Hinton (Jan 18, 2002)

Don't sweat the lack of "actual user testing." I just paid a month's lunch money for Jakob's new Intranet report, and when I received it noticed it doesn't actually test any users either :-)

Comment: Paul Nattress (Jan 18, 2002)

1. I agree that the new top-level domains are, quite frankly, naff.
2. I think it's easier for an average user* to type in www.usability.com, www.usability.org, www.usability.info etc than to type www.usabilityinfo.com, www.usabilityorganisation.com etc.

* Has anyone ever actually met an average user before?

Comment: Andrew (Jan 18, 2002)

So maybe we should all just use Google to get to everything and do away with the URL field.

Comment: Avi Rappoport (Jan 18, 2002)

Andrew, you're not the only one who's considered this option!

Dan Gillmor just did a column on how search engines have filled the gap between name and URL, so the whole TLD thing is much less important. It's at:

http://www.siliconvalley.com/docs/opinion/dgillmor/dg011301.htm

I've always been skeptical of additional TLDs, they might have made sense if they'd been released before the Big Boom. But now ".com" is so strongly identified with web sites that it's the default, so anyone typing a URL has to overcome the intertia to type anything else, such as .org, .ca, .uk, whatever.

On the third hand, many people never type a URL into the location box at all, they type them into the query field in search engines. Actually, that gets us back to Andrew's point.

Comment: the head lemur (Jan 20, 2002)

the new TLD's explained.....

.biz
sites for used car salesmen and other offers that are too good to be true..
>>click here for your 100 year lightbulbs<<

.info
sites for infomercials and banner ad networks.
newstuff.info
thank you for visiting, your name is now on over 10,000 maillists!!
your free offers will be arriving shortly

.name
sites for identity thieves.
fugitive.name
the source of new and old identities.
who-wants-a-new-identity.name
become someone else

.pro
prostitution and outcall services on the web
vesuvius.pro
your source for volcanic eruptions!!
high-colonic.pro
your home for that really clean feeling!
60 minutes or less!!!
(please kids, do not go there. You remember happened in Risky Business)

.museum
sites to save the dead arts and sciences.
dead-html-tags.museum
the home for propriatary tags and effects that only work in certain browsers!

.aero
sites for airplanes...
flying-laptops.aero
top 100 reasons your 1000 dollar laptop will crash our 50 million dollar plane

.coop
sites for convicted felons.
fed-pen.coop
guides to federal prisons... Now with menus!!
lockdown.coop
bad boys and what they do alone

Comment: Lou (Jan 20, 2002)

Yikes, we've been lemured!

Comment: Jerry Kindall (Jan 20, 2002)

I've thought for a while that the domains they actually chose are dumb, dumb, dumb. There were much better options out there. For instance, we should have an .inc and .corp for corporations which commonly use "Inc." or "Corporation" in their name, and similar ones for other countries (e.g. .ltd, .gmbh, .ag, etc.). Require all corporations to use these domains for their corporate sites and price 'em at $500 a year.

And then we should have .xxx. Require all porn sites to use this TLD. Browser developers then put in a button that blocks any domain name ending in .xxx. In fact, browser developers require a credit card number (not necessarily charged anything) in onder to unlock access to .xxx sites. End of porn filtering problem.

Why ".info" and ".museum" was chosen and not either of these eminently more useful TLDs is mystifying to me.

Comment: L. Lowe (Jan 21, 2002)

The launch of.info and .biz domain names was heralded as a huge success. Why have they done so well?

Basically because those of us who do business online scrambled to register the .info and .biz names that corresponded with our .com name. Otherwise others will.

I, like others, have been burned in the past with identity fraudsters opening websites offering similar services under a .net or .org domain that is the same as my .com. I have found that the only way to overcome this is to own ALL the domain TLD's relating to your company. Domain registration companies are very wise to this fact.

So what's my point? Bascially that .info and .biz domains were released for one purpose only. Profit. Hence the .biz lottery style of pre-registeration. Which I am sure they made a pretty penny from.

Comment: Michael Fry (Jan 21, 2002)

Jerry Kindall wrote (above):
"And then we should have .xxx. Require all porn sites to use this TLD...End of porn filtering problem.

Seems to me we'd still have to define
"pornography" and then figure out how to guarantee that anything "pornographic" carries the .xxx TLD.

In short, I don't see how this solves the "problem."

Comment: Tom Dana (Jan 21, 2002)

How about the company new.net
they offer .xxx as well as many others

They are not ICANN approved.......yet

Comment: Dimitris Anthoulakis (Jan 23, 2002)

I agree with the numbers. You just forgot to calculate how much the domain registration companies will earn by all these useless new top level domains ...

Comment: Lou (Jan 25, 2002)

I'm surprised by the cynicism in many of these responses. I really hadn't considered this as a money-making scam. And though I'm sure that a lot of money is being scammed by the registrars here, do people really think that ICANN itself is in cahoots?

I'd just assumed that they, like so many bureacracies, were benignly incompetent when it came to thinking through these issues in terms of usability and findability.

Comment: Jerry Kindall (Jan 25, 2002)

It's easy to define porn sites. They charge money and let you see naked people, in some cases having sex.

Comment: Nico Macdonald (Jan 30, 2002)

I still think the Internet Keywords concept pioneered by Real Names (http://www.realnames.com/) has a lot of mileage. It doesn't eliminate ambiguity but it is a lot closer to language than the domain name system, which is still a lot better than the IP address system. (I have no affiliation with Real Names, though I do know the founders.) More generally there is still a lot of work to do on non-English language and non-Roman character based resource location.

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