The Daily Green’s Living Green blog ran a story over the weekend about the proposed .eco gTLD and the various groups who are vying for control over it. On one side are Al Gore, the Sierra Club and Dot Eco. On the other are the Canadian Environmental group Big Room (former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is tied indirectly to the organization), WWF International and Green Cross. Each group is planning to donate a portion of the registration fees it will receive as operator of the gTLD to green programs and causes. Brian Clark Howard, the author of the post, questions the need for .eco – and all other new gTLDs for that matter. He contends that a separate gTLD could marginalize the green movement by taking it out of the mainstream, both in terms of Internet addresses and the global conversation. He writes, “I don’t see why green sites need their own identifier and separate domain, when we should be reaching as many people as possible.”
Howard raises an interesting issue in his post: the potential fragmentation of the Internet that an unlimited number of new gTLDs could cause. Until now, I’ve focused on the issue of Internet fragmentation from a purely practical perspective – that new gTLDs will alter the way consumers search for content on the Web and will likely make their experience less fluid and more complicated, at least during the initial adoption period. But there are also the potential social ramifications that gTLDs could have. Howard fears that having a separate identifier will remove the green movement from the mainstream. Right now there is dialogue in a common space; could new TLDs actually work to isolate people?
This post resonated with me more than other pieces I’ve read about new gTLDs because Howard is not a domain name expert, but an average Internet user. He mentions his appreciation for the order and organization of the current system of 21 gTLDs. Ultimately, it is people like Howard who are going to be most affected by the change to the Internet structure. One of the application requirements for new gTLDs is that they must provide a benefit to a particular community. Howard embodies the target audience for .eco, and he’s clearly not buying into it.
At this point, it seems inevitable that ICANN will move forward with the rollout of new gTLDs. This is not an entirely bad thing. But ICANN and future gTLD operators need to remember to listen to end users like Howard, because they are the ones who are most affected by the changes to the Internet.
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