Just as kids today may not be able to picture a world with only three TV channels, soon we may live in a time where we couldn't imagine living with so few channels of the Internet.
If you’re a small business or consumer, you may have seen or heard something about new domain extensions and be wondering "why should I care?" It’s a fair question, particularly in light of all the press about .SUCKS and .PORN capturing concerns and dollars from celebrities. I can give you a lot of reasons why you should care about these new domains, but let me tell you a story first.
A long time ago in our very own galaxy, the only way to find out what was happening in the world in real time was to turn on a radio. ABC, CBS, and NBC brought us the news and created programs that families sat around and listened to in the evening as the stories, music, and laughter transmitted through airwaves. After World War II, television was introduced to the home and by the 1950s was the primary mode of entertainment and news. Radio then splintered into local stations offering more tailored options. On television, ABC, CBS, and NBC remained the only networks to provide national programming. Between the 1950s and 1980s not much changed. Color television was phased in for most families by the 1960s and PBS came along in the 1970s. For nearly 30 years, nothing really changed in television and we had limited expectations.
When I try to explain to my 12-year-old son that we only had three television networks and no remote control, he looks at me in horror and disbelief (much like the thought of having only one phone in the kitchen). By the 1980s, remote controls had been introduced, but my family was never one to keep up with the latest trends so we had to wait several years before we had the coveted remote. Before then, my dad thought of my brother and me as his personal remote control to get up and change the channel for him. Can you imagine asking your kids to do that today? But you hardly needed a remote with so few choices. There was no channel guide to show you what was on the other channels while you continued to watch one or two other shows simultaneously. People actually subscribed to something called TV Guide. Remember that? It was a digest that came out every week with all the news about TV shows and it was a top-selling publication for decades. It’s out of business now. It was a different world. There were very few choices. Programming was to the masses, not niched or tailored like it is today.
Then in the 1980s, cable television came along and the world was introduced to MTV, which was actually music videos back then, and TBS, which played Brady Bunch reruns after school. CNN broke ground with the 24-hour news cycle and ESPN turned days into sports marathons. This was how we lived in the '80s, just being introduced to the concept that there could be more options of entertainment that might be tailored to our age group or our interests. Cable took over and segmented the entertainment industry so deeply that the hold those big three networks had over the population for decades would never be the same. Our now insatiable need for thousands of channels, not three, would change everything.
When the Internet came along in the '90s, we started out with just a few channels there, too. There was .GOV, which was for government sites. There was .EDU, which was for education, and .ORG for nonprofits. Of course, there was .COM, which stood for commerce. This was pretty much where everyone in business flocked because it was the only channel of the Internet that made any sense. You didn’t want to be defined as a government, education, or a nonprofit if you were running an ad agency, construction company, bakery, news network, or any of the other million possibilities. You wanted to be in .COM. In other parts of the world, companies flocked to their country codes but with the co.cc. Many businesses thought the Internet was a fad or wouldn’t last, so they didn’t immediately understand the value of buying up their brands or names in this new .COM world.
The love affair with .COM was so prolific it created a new industry – the domain name industry. These "domainers" saw the shift coming before most companies and bought up key words in .COM. When companies later wanted those valuable digital addresses in .COM, the limited supply of keyword-driven names drove up prices. Over the next 20 years only a few other possible channels of the Internet were introduced, like .MOBI or .BIZ, but by the time that happened the paradigm shift of companies wanting to be in the .COM space had taken over the advertising and marketing industries and no one saw the need.
The introduction of hundreds of new domains ranging from .APP or .DOG to .SOLUTIONS or .BIKE and Dot Brands like .TIFFANYS or .BMW is really no different than the television evolution to cable. The splintering of .COM into categories and segmentation are adding more choice and options to create digital spaces tailored to your needs as a consumer. You are no longer limited to one channel, but now hundreds more are available.
You may still be asking, "Why should I care?" The most important benefit for you as a consumer is that when a company or brand you trust operates their Dot Brand, you know it’s really them. If it ends in .JPMORGAN or .PFIZER, you don’t have to worry it’s a counterfeit or fake site – it’s real – you can trust it. When Johnson & Johnson promotes HEALTHY.BABY, you’ll know it’s the trusted brand. This is the biggest benefit for a consumer – a way to clearly know if it’s real or fake. You may also be able to build out your own pages within a brand you like or trust, for example: MY.LIFE or JENSCLOSET.MACYS. You’ll likely be able to remember certain digital addresses or campaigns more easily.
If you saw this billboard, you might remember it:
And, if you want to build out your own digital space, you can find a way to self-define who you are, what you are about, and where you fit in the world among hundreds of possible channels. In the future, we may wonder how we ever lived in a world with so few channels of the Internet, just as kids today couldn’t imagine getting up off the couch to change the TV to one of three channels. While cable faces the inevitable decline into Internet-based entertainment, the Internet just got cable with hundreds of new channels.
- Jennifer Wolfe