Internet governance is one of the most intricate, yet seldom spoken about, business topics these days. There is no clear consensus about who, if anyone, should rule and control the Internet, which is why the role of private organizations such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) are difficult to decipher.
The latest controversy involving ICANN is the new domain name .sucks, which is part of a large bundling of top level domains (TLD) that the organization has rolled out in recent years. What would motivate ICANN to create such an odd TLD, and for what purpose? Assuming that the Internet exists as a technological breakthrough to improve life by means of advanced global communications, it makes no sense for ICANN to roll out the new domain name .sucks; in fact, some online business analysts are calling this peculiar TLD an extortion attempt.
As it stands, the .sucks TLD will become available on June 21 to interested parties. Everyone knows what the .sucks TLD implies; it is descriptive term derived from American English slang of something terrible. The term “sucks” has been widely adopted across the Internet to denigrate things, people, organizations, brands, etc. Under this assumption, anyone who is not fond of Coca-Cola as a soft drink or as a company could potentially purchase cocacola.sucks for $250 and design a website that explains why that person feels that way.
Online bashing is nothing new, but some Internet analysts are questioning ICANN’s motivation for making this particular TLD available in the first place. Then there is the more delicate matter of ICANN asking $2,500 from major brands to reserve their own .sucks domain names before potential defamers, known in modern Internet parlance as “haters,” get to them first. Can this be considered business extortion or corporate blackmail? Before making such a declaration, it helps to learn the TLD structure.
Understanding the ICANN TLD Game
The Internet as we know it is hierarchically organized by a Domain Name System (DNS), which can be described as a global network of interconnected servers that discover and route traffic. High within the DNS hierarchy we find the TLDs, which are those extensions you find at the end of every full domain name. To cite a classic TLD example, we can use mtv.com, whereby the “mtv” portion denotes the popular cable channel Music Television, and the .com extension is the TLD. Aside from the legendary .com domain
TLD management is mostly the responsibility of ICANN, and this is where things get a bit tricky. The management of country code TLDs, for example, is often deferred to sovereign bodies. In this regard, we find organizations such as NIC.cr, which is in charge of registration and management of the Costa Rica country code TLD. Some nations capitalize on the commercial value of their country code TLDs, such is the case of Montenegro, which made available its powerful .me TLD to companies such as Apple for the defunct mobile.me service.
With the exception of country level TLDs, all other creations are approved and handled by ICANN. Of all possible TLD variations, why .sucks for $250? Why not .shines for $25 instead? As it happens, ICANN has already explained that their intention for making the TLD available was to empower customers while at the same time allowing companies to access a central repository of constructive criticism, which may help them in cultivating their branding and corporate image.
The Real Value of .sucks
At this time, Internet business analysts predict that there will be a wave of haters and opportunistic middlemen who will jump at the opportunity of securing a .sucks domain name. Companies who think it is worth for them to invest $2,500 before .sucks goes public are probably being very careful; however, can they even be 100 percent safe? Going back to our example above, cocacola.sucks is just one possibility, but what about coca-cola.sucks, coke.sucks, ithinkcocacola.sucks, whycocacoal.sucks, etc? Will the Coca-Cola Company be able to exert control over so many domains?
While some companies will probably try to secure one of these .sucks domain names now, many others will choose to wait and see how things develop after June 21. In the end, a company that has already established genuine and positive engagement with their customers will not have to worry about a .sucks website popping up in the near future.
It will be a good idea for companies to monitor Internet chatter about their brand once the .sucks TLD goes live. If they see that an onerous hater has acquired a .sucks domain related to their brand, they should monitor that website very closely so that they can prepare to perform damage control.
There is also the legal issue of domain squatting, which some analysts consider to be another form of business extortion. This happens when a domain name is purchased for nefarious purposes, namely to try to force a company into buying a name for the sole purpose of making negative content go away. In the United States, there is already case law that benefits companies in cases of Internet squatting, and it is very likely that we will probably see such cases reemerge once .sucks hits the market.