The New Top-Level Domains (nTLDs) – Top or Flop? A 2nd Anniversary Summary.

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They have been around for 2 years – the new Top-Level Domains (nTLDs for short). What has happened in these years? Have nTLDs been a success? And what is the current state of the market? A 2nd Anniversary Summary.

nTLD? What Even Is That…

nTLD is an acronym that stands for “new top-level domain.” Essentially, TLDs designate the last part of an Internet address or website. For instance, with www.easyname.at, the .at represents the top-level domain.

Common TLDs are either country-specific (ccTLDs), such as .at or .de, or generic (gTLDs), such as .com, .net, or .org. Since 2015, however, there have been numerous new TLDs – the nTLDs – such as .site, .online, .vip, .shop or .download.

…So Why Do We Need New Top-Level Domains?

The reason for the introduction of new domain extensions was the shortage of available TLDs. Popular domain extensions like .at or .com are now very hard to come by. In addition to this, it had become near-impossible to create short, memorable internet addresses. Who wants the misery of registering long URLs like hotel-sacher-wien.co.at? sacher.wien would be so much better!

In 2008, the Internet administration body ICANN decided to introduce new domain extensions to overcome both of these challenges. It is now also possible to create a short, crisp Internet address with almost any conceivable domain extension, such as .wien (city extensions, in this case for Vienna), .dog (hobby domains) or .blog (community domains).

New Top-Level Domains: A Market Overview

Things sound very promising. Think of domains like veltliner.bio, smartcity.wien, abc.xyz. These URLs are short, very memorable and, if we are quite honest, they just sound great.

But how has the market responded to nTLDs? Can they really be credited with the success that everyone assumes? The answer is rather sobering. Although the rush to purchase new top-level domains was surprisingly large and many corporate brands (.google, .amazon), USPs (.beauty) and trades (.property, .photography) wanted to lay claim to them, use of them has failed to materialise. This is true for large operations like Google, Sony and Amazon (who have perhaps been involved in unnecessarily severe price battles) and for regular users alike.

In fact, from the roughly 1,200 nTLDs that have been offered, only 515 nTLDs have been implemented – the rest have simply disappeared into the Internet’s undergrowth. Moreover, in the last 2 years, only about 27 million of the new domain extensions (21.9%) were registered: At first, that doesn’t sound like too small a number. Considering what the addresses were used for, however, the results are rather frustrating: Up until now, most nTLDs have hardly been used (66% of the 10,000 registrations). Of the active domains, only 38.1% are actually used, the remaining 61.9% being used to forward to existing web presences, being parked or simply being registered speculatively in the hope of selling them on.

How come the rush didn’t materialise?

Common Problems with nTLDs

The biggest drawback is probably that the awareness of the new domain extensions remains low outside of the industry. Anyone who doesn’t currently happen to want to register a new domain will hear very little about nTLDs. Suitable marketing measures are completely absent across the board.

And those who want to register a new domain (but don’t happen to be mega-nerds) are often overwhelmed by the huge number of available domain extensions. Should a photographer choose .photo, .photos, .photography or rather just .pics or .pictures as an nTLD? Should an estate agent choose .build, .haus, .house, .property or even .realestate? In this respect, it’s clear that ICANN put the quantity of new TLDs before quality.

It wasn’t even possible to awaken the interest of technically gifted users: the reason for this is certainly that many domain sellers entered the market with extremely low costs – prices which they simply couldn’t keep to. That scares off existing customers. So it is already foreseeable that many domain names will not be renewed and the number of active nTLDs will increasingly diminish.

A look into the future suggests that it will become more difficult to visually identify domains. Because who would expect to find a website at great.food? Or at veltliner.bio, simple.cuisine or thewolf.restaurant? All of which currently reduces confidence in nTLDs and stops users from deploying them.  

Technical Problems with nTLDs

nTLDs are currently still in their infancy: there’s no question about that! For this reason, they can be forgiven a few small, technical problems. Unfortunately, nTLDs struggle with one big problem: universal acceptance. At the moment, there is no guarantee that all TLDs will be properly supported by all web clients. Thus, if a URL or email address with new domain extension is tested against an out-of-date TLD list, it may be rejected. And often, the user doesn’t even know why. In the worst-case scenario, potential new customers and even buyers will be involuntarily excluded from nTLDs. A disaster!

To get this under control, the Mozilla organization has started a large open source project and created the Public Suffix list, into which all newly created TLDs are entered. Website operators check registrations against this list at no cost, helping them to ensure that all users are treated equally.

It’s a step in the right direction, but it will take a long time before all website operators are marching in tandem. Until then, users who use TLDs will continue to be disappointed that they are not able to deploy them at 100%.

There are still many unanswered questions and ambiguities which, until that point, will prevent nTLDs from taking the spotlight.

So It’s All Gone Wrong with nTLDs?

In our opinion: no! Looked at less harshly, nTLDs are of benefit to the Internet. Used properly, they can lead to more structure. This is because domain extensions provide clarity about the type, content, aims and location of a website.

In addition, there are some domain extensions that have enjoyed trust and approval from the outset, such as city domains (.wien, .hamburg .berlin, .london, etc.) and area domains (.tirol, .wales, .nrw, etc.).

And on top of this, they simply offer more options for the selection of newer, shorter, more memorable and nicer URLs.

Conclusion: nTLDs – Top or Flop?

In our opinion: top! This is because in the long term, nTLDs will revolutionise the internet, supply structure and clarity and thus provide the user with greater usability.

At the same time, however, we also say: flop! This is because the introduction of new top-level domains didn’t exactly roll out perfectly. This means that the trust of many users has already been lost and recreating this will be a long, arduous process. There are also many technical hurdles to be overcome before nTLDs will be able to appear in all their glory.

This is why some nTLDs will assert themselves and become established, and some are likely to disappear from the market in the long term. nTLDs are however here to stay, whether you like them or not!