ICANN recently announced the availability of new top-level domains (TLDs). So now in addition to .com and .org you can get www.startup or blackfly.chardonny.ironic.
Just imagine: Slashdot.org could become slashdot.dot, making its full pronunciation “eych tee tee pee colon slash slash slash dot dot dot.”
A new TLD can be yours for only $185,000, but get 5% off with promo code “damnthatsalotofmoney05.”
This is the dark side of free market capitalism, and something I hope you as a thoughtful entrepreneur will eschew.
The announcement set me off. It stems from this steaming pile of nonsense from ICANN chairman Peter Thrush:
“Once this is set up, the theory is, or the hope is, this is going to lead to innovation in ways we can’t imagine.”
Really? Innovation? Because I see this as extracting money from ignorant fear and making the world worse for consumers.
First, let’s dig into their reasoning behind this “innovation.” A recent NPR news story makes it clear. They quote Jeff Ernst, principal analyst at Forrester Research and “an expert in marketing strategy,” saying something so inane that it will also convince you that firms like Forrester “Research” have nothing to do with research and everything to do with saying whatever their high-paying clients would like them to say. From the radio report:
Ernst gives an example of what a company like Canon could do. It could acquire dot-Canon, and even the generic dot-camera, and could create photo-sharing Web sites grouped within those domains.
“So not only is Canon now going to be dot-Canon,” he says, “but Canon can now issue secondary domains to every one of its camera owners, and what they might very well do is embed a chip in their cameras that link that camera owner to their ID so that as they’re taking photos they could just be automatically uploading photos to a photo-sharing site. I mean, that’s just one possibility.”
What amazing innovation! Except for one thing: Canon can already do that at canon.com. There is zero innovation in making the URLs be dumbass.canon instead of dumbass.canon.com.
I would argue further that it’s harmful. Today when you want to tell someone a domain you say “asmartbear.com,” and people understand they’re supposed to key that into the little field at the top of a browser window. But if my TLD is just “asmartbear,” what do I say?
“Our URL is asmartbear” Or: “It’s eych tee tee pee colon slash slash asmartbear.” Or even “double ewe double ewe double ewe dot asmartbear.” Whether in print or verbally, it actually takes longer to say. Thanks for the innovation.
Oh and I thought we already tried that “innovation.” Remember how they opened up .tv and .biz and all those? Remember all the amazing innovations that poured forth from that? I’m still trying to get the stains out of my good slacks.
No, this isn’t about innovation, it’s about making easy money. Money ill-spent, as ICANN founder and ex-chairman Esther Dyson said: “If I had $185,000, I’d spend it on something else.”
But, sadly, companies like Canon will undoubtedly open their wallets to “control their brand” or whatever FUD they’re basing the decision on.
Here’s where the free-market folks pipe up to argue this is the way it should be. Because: Even if you admit that it’s a useless product, preying on the ignorance and fear of big brands, if ICANN can legally do it, and if those brands want to spend that money, then that’s exactly what they should do. It’s not up to back-seat-driver me or jaded ex-chairman Esther Dyson or forward-thinking chairman Peter Thrush or the prescient, visionary Jeff Ernst to decide what the world needs and at what price. If it’s a poor product at an unreasonable price, the market will correct. The market is efficient and wise.
But the market isn’t wise. It seeks immediate gratification over long-term utility. It seeks profit for the few instead of optimizing for the many. The market has a child’s proclivities, not an adult’s wisdom.
For example, there are many choices in cell-phone carriers, and that’s good. They can and should battle for customers in the free market, based on line quality, customer service, pricing, features, coverage, and so on.
But what about cell towers? Should every company put up their own? Do we want 12 companies each vying for space along congested freeways? Do we want every hilltop marred with more equipment? Are we happy if cell phone bills rise to fund more towers?
No, in this corner of the business, we want them to share, for the benefit of everyone — the cost to the consumer, the bottom line for the companies, and even the wasteful occupation of space on Earth.
It’s even more important with “infrastructure utilities” — services which absolutely everyone depends on. Electricity, plumbing, and roadways are things which are so critical to our daily lives and so unthinkably wasteful to allow “competition” that even in crazy-capitalist America we agree that it’s better to have just one set of pipes underground and one set of wires on the telephone poles.
The Internet has become another critical infrastructure utility. The domain name system is as much a utility as the mind-boggling network of physical wires that link billions of devices around world. Screwing with it for pointless so-called innovation is just wasting everyone’s time.
So should it be legal? Of course, they can do what they want. And that’s better than the other extreme; I’d rather live with too many products and companies making money off other company’s ignorance than the reverse, where regulation stifles progress, controlled by the only entity capable of more waste and more ignorance than even the largest company: government.
But ICANN — and all of us — can aspire to be better than that. We have a moral obligation if not a legal or ethical one. Most businesses change the world for the better — a new tool that makes someone’s life a little easier, connecting people who want to be connected, or creating the millions of run-of-the-mill jobs which might not be glamourous in the eyes of techno-snobs like us but which put food on the table for most of the human beings in the 1st world.
With all this opportunity to make boatloads of money while also improving the world — even if just a little bit — we entrepreneurs shouldn’t allow ourselves to dip into this meaningless, useless behavior.
No need to be a hero, just don’t be a leech.
I know you’re already with me. The next step is to fight the leeches. Fight with your wallet and your words.
It’s all we can do. It may not be much but, then again, it may.
Do entrepreneurs have a moral obligation to improve the world or is OK if “making money” is the number one goal? Let’s continue the discussion in the comments.