Will Shorter Domain Names Boost Dot Biz?

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Get ready for i.biz, u.biz and probably we.biz.

One- and two-character domain names are coming to the .biz extension if NeuStar, the company that runs the .biz registry, succeeds in getting the change okayed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The change is part of a marketing campaign "to increase competition in the marketplace and to raise awareness of the .biz brand," said Tim Switzer, NeuStar vice president of registry services.

Since NeuStar launched .biz in 2001 the extension has struggled to find a foothold, despite being available in 15 different languages. Most big corporations prefer the much-older dot com extension, established in 1985.

The .biz extension was once promoted as a way to "break out of the advertising clutter." It is mainly used by smaller companies, although many larger corporations have reserved their brands' .biz domains and have them redirect to their .com sites. According to http://www.domainworldwide.com/, as of Feb. 19 .biz ranked as the eighth most registered domain extension in the world with 666,399. Dot com is first, with over 21 million, followed by Germany (.de), .net, .co.uk, .org, .info and .it.

NeuStar, which also administers .us, .travel, and .tel, says .biz in fact topped 2 million registrations last fall. However, 73 percent of the registrants have fewer than 10 employees. The United States and Canada account for most of the registrations, followed by Germany and the United Kingdom.

Companies that want to make major changes to the top-level domains they administer must ask for an amendment in the contract they have with ICANN, the nonprofit group that oversees the domain name system. ICANN considers the changes after a public comment period.

NeuStar and several other companies have lobbied for the right to register shorter domain names since 2006, when ICANN lifted a restriction that had been in effect since the early 1990s. At that time, it was believed that it might be hard to maintain a database of over 40 million domains, so one-character domains were reserved in case the main databases needed to be split up to deal with demand. Two-character domains were also reserved to avoid confusion with countries -- who have their own two-letter code, like .us for the United States on the Internet.

Before the restrictions took place, however, all the possible two-character letter and number combinations were snapped up for .com and all but one was taken for .net, according to an ICANN spokesperson. "There is only a single two-character domain left to be had in .net, and that is 2c.net," he said.

A few years ago ICANN revisited the issue and has since granted permission for shorter names for several extensions. Dot coop and .mobi can now have one-character domain names, joining PayPal's x.com and Quest's q.com, which were registered before the 1993 cessation, but one-character Web sites are still rare. Scott Baldwin, a spokesperson for VeriSign, said the company currently is not accepting any new single-character name registrations for .com or .net.

How shorter domain names might affect .biz registrations remains to be seen, but some observers are not convinced it will make much difference for the beleaguered extension.

SEO blogger, analyst and consultant Aaron Wall advises his business clients not to register as .biz. He says the very association with commercial interests that .biz connotes has tarnished the extension.

"Billions of dollars have gone into marketing dot com as a brand. People trust the default and what they are familiar with. The same is true for leading country specific domains like .co.uk. Many people trust .org domains because trustworthy charities have sites on them. Of the sites you visit each day and of the sites you subscribe to, how many of them are built on .biz domain names?"

So far, NeuStar's bid to expand .biz has not attracted much public comment. There were only two posts when we visited Feb. 20, both lambasting NeuStar for poor handling of .biz.

The comment period closes March 15.

This story, "Will Shorter Domain Names Boost Dot Biz?" was originally published by thestandard.com.

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