Why did Microsoft drop $2 million on generic top-level domains?

ICANN gTLDs - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has revealed the list of 1,930 generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) that were registered between January 12, 2012 (when the program opened) and May 30, 2012. Many prominent tech companies are on the list, including Microsoft, Google, and Apple.

There are currently 302 TLDs in existence, 280 of which are country-specific (like .co.uk and .au) and just 22 of which are generic (like .com and .info). The latter number, however, will soon see an explosive amount of growth thanks to ICANN’s decision to make gTLD registration available to companies and organizations. ICANN plans to spend the next seven months evaluating applications and reviewing complaints. Once this time period is up, hundreds of new gTLDs will flood the internet. This has the potential to drastically change how companies format their URLs. Of course, gTLDs also have a heavy price. Unlike a traditional second-level domain name, top-level domain names require businesses to become a registry, resulting in a $185,000 evaluation fee and a $25,000 annual registration fee per gTLD. If you do the math, the cost adds up pretty quickly.

Microsoft, for its part, applied for eleven domain names: .azure, .bing, .docs, .hotmail, .live, .microsoft, .office, .skydrive, .skype, .windows, and .xbox. This move was obviously made to protect its most valuable brands, as well hold on to the valuable .docs gTLD. Google also applied for .docs, along with a whopping 101 other registrations like .google, .android, .kid, and even .lol. Apple, on the flipside, applied for just .apple.

The question is whether Microsoft plans to use these gTLDs for anything more than brand protection. In some ways, I could almost see Microsoft switching its domains over to xbox.microsoft, bing.microsoft, etc. These domains, however, are much longer than the current .com ones. Plus, how would companies handle their main website? The URL microsoft.microsoft doesn’t have the nicest ring to it. The gTLDs Microsoft applied for are also too long to use with a URL shortening service. Currently, the company uses sdrv.ms for its shortened SkyDrive URLs. Email accounts, however, are a potentially exciting use case. What if you could customize your Hotmail email address even further with something like [email protected]? This would certainly go a long way toward eliminating the numerous aliases like [email protected], which don’t look very professional. At this point, the possibilities are nearly endless.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about an internet where we have domains ending in a wide variety of brands and concepts, but ICANN is very excited about it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the coming months and years.

Update: Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer, Craig Mundie, released this official statement:

Our goal for our new TLDs is to promote responsible utilization of the Web and ultimately better experiences for consumers. Although we’re not yet talking about specific plans for the TLDs for which we’ve applied, we believe that – properly used – this expansion of domains can help deliver new services and capabilities to consumers and the Internet community as a whole. Appropriately utilized, the new TLDs can also protect the rights of trademark holders and brand owners, while promoting a safer and more secure computing experience.

[ICANN]
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William Devereux

William Devereux is the former Microsoft editor at Pocketables, as well as a Microsoft MVP and SkyDrive/Outlook.com Insider. As his title implies, he wrote about all things from Redmond, including Windows 8 and Windows Phone. He is currently carrying a Windows Phone 8X by HTC and a Microsoft Surface with Windows RT tablet.

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