The dotcom turns 25 today. It’s hard to imagine it’s been around that long, and it’s amazing to think that it predates the advent of HTML and the World Wide Web. I can’t help thinking that dotcom is another example of how innovation in the tech sector can sometimes generate success far beyond the dreams of its creators.
In 1985, when .com was created, the Internet was in its infancy and the was largely administered by the U.S. Government – or the Department of Defence (DoD) to be precise. Later, in 1991, the National Science Foundation (NSF) assumed responsibility for its administration.
Dotcom was designated as an Internet domain for non-military purposes and both the DoD and the NSF contracted it’s operation to a third party – Network Solutions.
Monetisation of the .com commenced in 1995 – a full ten years after its creation – when Network Solutions was granted permission to charge an annual renewal fee for dotcom domains.
Later, Network solutions was acquired by VeriSign, at a time that roughly coincided with creation of the World Wide Web and the mass uptake of Internet by businesses and private citizens, so it was them who really hit the jackpot.
According to a BBC report today, .com registrations grew from a handful at the outset, to one million in 1997 and finally to the present level of 668,000 monthly registrations. That’s a nice little earner for VeriSign.
Today the domain name system is overseen by ICANN of course. In 2005, a new contract between ICANN and VeriSign was signed, under which VeriSign was granted the right of presumptive renewal. In essence, this means VeriSign has an almost automatic right of renewal on the contract in any future review, virtually guaranteeing its cash cow. This was quite a contentious issue at the time, with rival registry operators vying for a piece of the action.
Dotcom will no doubt remain the most prominent domain for some time to come. However, changes are on the way that will result in competition and possibly lower registrations.
ICANN is currently administering the introduction of new generic Top Level Domains via a protracted process that should conclude towards the end of the year. When that happens, there will be more consumer choice, which may over time dilute the dominance of dotcom.
Another factor that is set to have an impact on the development of the DNS in coming years is the introduction of Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs). Until recently, it wasn’t possible to interact fully with the DNS in a non-Latin based language. That finally changed this year with the introduction of the first IDNs.
From a commercial perspective, the real power and potential of IDNs may be realised when they are combined with new gTLDs in markets where dotcom doesn’t necessarily dominate, such as Asia and the Middle East. In those regions, we may see the emergence of .com equivalents that generate significant income for the operators and limit VeriSign’s potential for growth outside the English speaking world.