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Domain Extension History - Importance of Domain Extensions - New gTLDs
The History of the Domain Extension & Why It's So Important
Robyn Norgan
Nov 13, 2013 • 5 min read

You may have heard that last year the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the highest authority overseeing the world's Internet systems, received over 1900 applications for proposed new domain extensions. Since then, they have been in the process of going through the applications to decide which domain extensions will eventually launch. More recently, we have seen the first few delegated, including some international domain extensions and a few English languages ones just this week.

But, before we delve too deep into the new domain extensions, let's take a look back at the original ones. Before the first domain extensions were born, there were IP addresses. Now I'm sure you're thinking, but wait we still have IP addresses today! You would be correct, but it's a little easier to visit us at vs. typing in a long sequence of numbers (I suppose this is the same reason we have telephone address books, right?). Thus, the first seven domain extensions were born: .COM, .NET, .ORG, .EDU, .GOV, .MIL, and .ARPA.

Each of these seven domain extensions originally had a specific purpose. .ARPA was the first domain installed in the DNS and it was to be a temporary domain to facilitate the transition of ARPANET to DNS (ARPANET was one of the predecessors to the Internet). For .EDU, .GOV, and .MIL, the original purposes have lasted the test of time because they have been more restricted.

.EDU stands for education and is for US-accredited educational institutions
.GOV stands for government and is for government entities in the US
.MIL stands for military and is for US military use

.COM, .NET, and even .ORG to a lesser degree, on the other hand, have all evolved from their original purposes:

.COM stands for commercial and was intended for commercial entities
.NET stands for network and was intended for organizations in network technologies
.ORG stands for organization and was intended for non-profits

Today, .COM is by far the most popular domain for any type of website, whether it is commercial or not. .NET has moved on from network technologies and is now seen as one of the best alternatives to the popular .COM. Like .COM, you'll see .NET used for both individual and business websites around the world. .ORG does still have a non-profit reputation, but, since it has never been specifically restricted to non-profits, it is widely used by schools, community groups, businesses, and more.

Soon after the birth of these first few domain extensions, country codes including the United States' .US and the United Kingdom's .UK were born. Each country code domain extension (with a few exceptions such as .UK) is based on the International Organization for Standards (ISO) 3166-1 alpha-2 two-letter country codes. This is why countries such as the Independent State of Samoa have a country code domain such as .WS, which stands for its former name, Western Samoa.

Today, the most popular country code domain extensions are Germany's .DE and the United Kingdom's .UK. .DE is currently the second most popular domain extension behind .COM and .UK is the fourth most popular behind .NET. Both are widely used in their home countries, so much so that Google will rank websites using .DE or .CO.UK (.UK on its own does not currently allow direct registrations) better for searches coming from their home countries.

Although .DE and .CO.UK's popularity took off in their home countries, this has not been the case for all county codes for various reasons. As a result, some countries have chosen to position their code on the world stage and have been very successful. Two of the best examples of this are .TV and .ME.

.TV is the country code of the tiny island nation of Tuvalu. They chose to not only open their domain extension to the world, but also to brand it for use by websites with video because, well, it's .TV! In Tuvalu's case, they obviously wouldn't have had huge demand for .TV because their population is only just over 10,000 as of 2012. Since they were give a domain extension that happens to share a name with TV, they took advantage and rebranded.

.ME is the country code of Montenegro. Although Montenegro has a much larger population than Tuvalu - at over 600,000 - they chose to rebrand their domain extension because of the possibilities of a domain extension such as .ME. Today, .ME is popular for personal websites, blogs, and even business websites. Many start ups have adopted .ME as a unique way to differentiate themselves.

As you can see, there are already a lot of different options when it comes to domain extensions. So why add more? Despite the fact that each country has their own domain extension and there are several options for generic domain extensions, nothing has even come close to .COM's popularity. At over 110 million registrations, it exceeds .DE and .NET by about 95 million (both have about 15 million registrations).

Other domain extensions were added in the past, including .INFO and .BIZ in 2001, to ease .COM's burden, but none have even come close to making a dent (.INFO and .BIZ have about 8 million registrations combined). It remains to be seen whether releasing these 1900 new domain extensions will have an affect on .COM's powerful reign. Either way, it will be interesting to see the affect on the industry and the Internet as a whole.

Post by Robyn Norgan