Monday, 7 December 2009

On your marks, get set ... and prepare to go in the race to reach a new domain

Next year’s likely launch of .eco is causing great debate
Elizabeth Judge

Business is clamouring to be green. Companies boast of “low emissions”, “carbon neutrality” and “sustainability”. This week’s United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen will confirm eco-business as the world’s most fashionable cause.
And next year, the green bandwagon will pick up even greater momentum when the right to operate the website address “.eco” is expected to be made available.
Interest in the name is huge, even though Icann, the body that co-ordinates the internet’s address system, has yet to fire the starting gun in the race to acquire it. Al Gore, the former US Vice-President who has emerged as the spiritual leader of the climate change lobby, is among those jostling for it.
Yet .eco, at first glance such an obvious way to promote and encourage environmental concerns and credentials, is not without its problems, even now. Is it merely a route into an expensive legal quagmire of trademark violators and “cybersquatters”? And, bearing in mind that other domain names, such as .mobi, have disappeared without trace, is there any point in having it at all?

At present there are 21 “generic top-level domains”, the part that comes after the dot. Aside from the ones we tap routinely into our computers, such as .com and .gov, they include .net and .org. Icann, however, plans a “Big Bang” of the cyberworld, with an almost limitless number of names coming up for grabs. Its aim is to promote competition in the domain name marketplace, where .com, with 80 million users, dominates.
Not everybody is as keen. “The proliferation of top-level domain names has come as an unwelcome development to many businesses,” Adam Taylor, of Adlex Solicitors, the internet legal specialists, said. “Some feel they have no choice but to spend money buying up these new names just to stop someone else doing so. There is a strong argument that it is more of a headache than anything else.”
Mr Taylor’s finger is pointed at, among others, the cybersquatters, those who register a name identical or confusingly similar to somebody’s brand or trademark without their permission and try to profit from traffic that comes to it, for example by putting adverts up on their site.
The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (Cadna), a not-for-profit body that seeks to raise awareness of illegal and unethical infringement of brands on the internet, estimates that, globally, cybersquatting is costing brand owners more than $1 billion every year as a result of diverted traffic, loss of trust and goodwill and the expense of protecting consumers from internet-based fraud.
Fred Krueger, chief executive of Dot Eco, a group supported by Mr Gore that is seeking the right to operate .eco, insists that concerns about defensive registrations are based on “fear, not reality ... Brands, contrary to popular belief, do not register on every domain. If a brand wants to be all things to all people, then, yes, it will need to register on potentially more sites. But the reality is that brands are successful because they know how to focus.”
Mr Krueger believes that .eco will rank as a challenger to the most successful internet domain names. “A great number of businesses already have a part of their website dedicated to green information, like their carbon footprint. But there is no uniform approach to finding these. The .eco domain will let you create a standard by which you can find this information.”
The right to operate a top-level domain is big business, which comes with a $100,000-plus price-tag. To help its cause, Dot Eco has pledged to donate 50 per cent of the profits made from the domain, for which businesses ultimately are expected to pay between $10 and $40, to green groups such as Mr Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection. Another group seeking to secure the name — Big Room — has gone further, pledging to ensure that the domain name will be awarded only to groups that can provide proof of their green credentials.
In the meantime, Icann is seeking opinions about potential problems that could accompany the arrival of names such as .eco. Demand may yet prove to be among the biggest of them.
World wide web
• The most widely recognised generic top-level domain is .com. Since its introduction 20 years ago, it has amassed 80 million users
• There are 21 generic top-level domains
• There have already been two rounds of new top-level domains. In 2000 for ones including .biz, .museum and .info. In 2004 for ones including .asia .mobi and .tel
• There are more than 1.6 billion internet users worldwide
Sources: Icann/Dot Eco