This guest post is by Eric van den Berg (@isimediaNL), owner of the private Catholic media company ISI Media and writer of the well-received Dutch handbook Church and Internet.
On June 20, 2011 ICANN – the worldwide governing body for domain names – decided that private organizations and companies may apply for new top level domains.
A top-level domain is the rightmost part of an address, after the dot. Familiar examples are .com, .net, or .edu. The ICANN decision makes generic names like .shop, .love, .hewlettpackard and the like possible. Applicants may start submitting proposals on January 12, 2012.
Now, consider this: the ICANN decision also liberates domain extensions like .catholic, .church, .anglican, .orthodox, .islam, or even .jesus and .god.
From the perspective of corporate identity, church branding, SEO and accessibility, these new possibilities may seem very attractive. Wouldn’t it be great to share, for example, many local Christian communities under one domain, or to brand the Roman Catholic Church under .catholic?
From economic point of view, it isn’t feasible at all. ICANN is charging $185,000, leading some observers to speculate that it’s all about generating revenue for ICANN. Plus, the $185k doesn’t include your organization’s technical maintenance and management costs, or annual fees for renewal.
Most importantly, there are ethical questions.
I shiver at the prospect of Microsoft or Starbucks owning “dot god.” Back in 2009, the Vatican vetoed the “dot god” domain. Community-based and religion-themed domains could cause "bitter disputes’ and may lead to 'holy cyber wars,'” said Msgr. Carlo Maria Polvani, member of the governmental advisory committee (GAC) of the ICANN.
Looks like questions raised then, now have to be answered: Who may own “dot god”? Which organizations may maintain a religion-themed TLD? Is a “dot godisdead” just a theoretical possibility?
In my opinion, this may – in extreme – lead to more separation or competition among Catholics (e.g. .traditionalcatholic, .liberalcatholic, .notsocatholic). And what if disputes occur and a religious organization appeals to ICANN for adjudication? Can the GAC decide on religious issues? On what grounds? Will there be verified accounts, like on Twitter?
These questions have been roughly addressed by the advisory committee in the latest draft of the guidelines. Looks like an “early warning” can be issued if an organization might infringe religion-themed domains. My question is this: will that “‘early warning” solution be enough? What’s your opinion?
Want to learn more? Watch the ICANN video here.