The Perils of your Domain Name

What's in a name? A question as old as time. But one that has a different meaning in the age of domain names. For any business these days, having an internet presence is crucial. Since the rise of the internet, the prime objective for businesses was to get a .com domain. But for many years now, getting a .com domain that matches your business name has become nearly impossible.

So these days, when starting a business and thinking of a business name, considering the availability of domain names is crucial.

However, in going down this route, some businesses are standing on shaky ground, without even realising. You see, domain names all end in whats known as a Top Level Domain (TLD). Some of the best known ones are .com, .uk, .net, .de, etc. These TLDs largely fall into two groups:

Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLD). These represent a country. .uk for example represents the UK. .de represents Germany, etc. They are usually operated by that country (or an organisation on behalf of a country), and follow rules set by its government.

Generic Top Level Domains (gTLD). These do not represent a country. Instead they are run by various organisations. The best known examples include .com, .net, and .org, but also TLDs such as .xyz, .dev, etc.

And the problem is that choosing your TLD has side effects - some better than others.

What problems can TLDs cause?

There are in fact a number of problems that can be caused by choosing the 'wrong' TLD. Here is a non-exhaustive list of issues that organisations have faced because of the TLD they chose in fairly random order:

The most recent example I've come across concerns the domain This used to host a social media / micro-blogging service. I think the appeal of the domain name was obvious. But .af is the Afghan TLD. As such the government of Afghanistan has the final word on whether a given .af domain may exist or not. And after the Taliban took over the country again, it must already have been questionable whether anyone should pay them money for a domain (and in fact many domain registrars stopped selling .af domains int he wake of the Taliban takeover). In fact had therefore already decided not to renew the domain, but then the Taliban accelerated their demise when they simply revoked the domain, causing the sudden end of that service overnight.

Another example is the .ly TLD. Given the fact that many adverbs in the English language end in these two letters it made for some nice domain names. Among them, which had to suddenly move to a different domain in 2011 as the civil war in that country meant they couldn't renew their domain. (Incidentally, the .ly TLD provides precedence for the removal of domains that are in violation of Islamic/Sharia law.)

A third example comes from the .io TLD. It's fairly popular in the tech world for some reason. The problem with it is complicated to say the least. The very short version is that the .io domain represents the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). A territory established after the British government forcibly deport people from the Chagos Islands in the 60s/70s. In 2021 a UN body ruled that this was illegal and that Mauritius rather than the UK has sovereignty over these islands. This would extinguish the BIOT and therefore the .io domain if it was ever enforced. (And even if it does not, it appears that the fees from buying a .io domain go to some random person, rather than the people who once lived in and were forcibly removed from these islands, making the choice to buy this TLD morally questionable to me.)

A final example of the pitfalls of ccTLDs come from the .eu domain: This one represents the EU. In order to own a .eu domain you must be a resident or citizen of the EU, or a business based in the EU. When the UK left the EU many UK based individuals and business therefore lost their .eu domains.

And lest you think that ccTLDs are the only problem, and that you should choose one of the newer generic TLDs: For example the .xyz TLD has been reported to be blocked by some spam filters - something that I can personally attest to, having owned a .xyx domain for many years.

So, what's the takeaway here? I think it is simply to be mindful of who controls the domain you chose. Yes, .com domains are increasingly hard to get. And as a result we are increasingly seeing adoption of other more unusual domain names. I'm not saying you shouldn't go for anything other than .com. Other TLDs are often good and reliable. But here are a few questions you should probably ask yourself when deciding on a domain name: