Taking it to the Top: A Short Survey of Top Level Domain Options

Tim Clukey

Tim Clukey When you're starting to craft a website these days you have to hit the URL running--even before you've started the planning and coding process. Locking in that little piece of cyber-turf your site will call home is becoming increasingly difficult, however, with the dwindling availability of highly descriptive dot-com names amidst a growing market of squatters and speculators hoping to trade domain names for cash . The industry has even given rise to Manhattan-based management firms specializing in domain name acquisitions that often auction off their pre-ordained alphanumeric gold for six figures or more !

Relax. There's no need to stress (or go broke) over the market pressures of cyberspace. To avoid the hassles of domain name selection, simply stay away from that "Manhattan" of top level domains--dot.com. But what other options do you have to work with? Well, plenty.

The original handful of domains (.com, .edu, .gov, .mil, .net, .org) have given rise to hundreds of possibilities through the efforts of that international, non-profit organization--the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN has the responsibility of organizing cyberspace--or at least that portion that handles top level domains.

Top level domains are the part of the web address that appear after the last "dot" in the URL (just those few characters before any "/"). TLDs are a major identifier and can often indicate the intended source/type/use of your site. ICANN has developed two basic types of Top Level Domains.

The first type is known as a generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) and consists of a couple of dozen three to six letter words--from dot-com to dot-museum. These are generic and, for the most part, non-geographic in nature. (The U.S.'s early dominance in cyberspace in the 90's had made dot-com synonymous with the states, but that has undergone many changes since.)

Below is a listing of all the gTLDs with a recent survey of their online dominance through Google's domain search feature (e.g. site:biz).

Table 1 Google-based Internet Domain Survey of gTLDs

(July 2007 ... at right)

Table 1 Google-based Internet Domain Survey of gTLDs

It is apparent, and not surprising, that the top five gTLDs (com / org / edu / gov / net) dominate with 98.9% of the available sites (three of which break over the billion mark).

The next seven (info / int / biz / mil / cat / name / mobi) all break the million mark and carry almost 120 million sites combined.

The following 7 (coop / travel / aero / museum / pro / jobs / asia) haven't yet broken a million individually, but have a combined total of almost 2.5 million sites.

Where does this leave your website?

Well, wide open. This table truly exhibits the potential availability of many of the non-dot-com domain name options.

Granted, some of the generic TLDs aren't that generic. Unless you're building a travel site (.travel), posting potential jobs (.jobs), or gearing up for the next showing of Queen Nefertiti (.museum), you probably won't be pitching your tent at these gTLDs. And chances are you're not part of the military (.mil) or fluent in the Catalan language (.cat), but that still leaves the field wide open. After all, how many dot-org's aren't really organizations anyway? It's all a matter of where you'd like your site to fit in.

Still not convinced? Well I did say there were hundreds of available options, and the second basic type of TLD will help even the score. Created to open up the worldwide potential of the world wide web, ICANN created a country-based coding system called ccTLDs. This system comprises distinct two-digit codes for each country in the world. The ccTLDs add 250 more top level domain names to the mix!

Table 2 -- Google-based Internet Domain Survey of the Top 10 ccTLDs in Use

Table 2 - Google-based Internet(July 2007)
* DE = Deutschland
**CH = Confaederatio Helvetica (Latin for Swiss Confederation)

But you say you don't live in Kyrgyzstan, so what good could "dot-KG" do for you?

Well, it just so happens that a number of web-savvy entrepreneurs are out there beating the bushes for potentially useful two-digit ccTLDs. You see many of these codes are assigned to small (almost non-existent) places on the planet. Take dot-HM, for example. This code was assigned to the Heard and McDonald Islands, a small group of volcanic islands in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. There is no indigenous population and (besides penguins) it is only visited by an occasional researcher or two. Yet, this place has control over their two-digit code dot-HM. And although dot-HM doesn't carry any current usefulness to it, many other two-digit codes have been picked up and are starting to fill someone's coffers.

Case in point: the small South Pacific island of Tuvalu. With a population of slightly less than 12,000 people (227th world-wide) scattered over an area of only 10 square miles, it ranks 26th for total #of sites (over 19 million). How does it rate so highly? Well it happens to have a popular two-digit ccTLD code of dot-TV!

Other popular ccTLDs include .CC, .FM, .NU, .IS, .WS, .TO, .TK, .LI, AND .CX, to name a few. And many web builders are getting creative with these new options. Although it represents the country of Liechtenstein, for example, dot-LI is popular for people living in the Long Island area of New York State.

Dot-NU is also getting popular. Representing the small Polynesian island-nation of Niue, how else could a population of less than 1,500 harbor over seven million web-sites with dot-NU? Much of its popularity rests with the fact that the word "nu" means "now" in Swedish, Danish, & Dutch. And what do the inhabitants of Niue get out of this? Among other things, all residents get free Internet services for life (PDF).

And if you feel unpatriotic using any two-digit country code other than your own, think of the good you could be doing by supporting the people of Tokelau (.TK), Vanuatu (.VU), or Faroe (.FO).

Well, there you have it. Over 270 Top Level Domains for you to choose from. Just pick one. And please hurry up--you still have to come up with the rest of your domain name...

Tim Clukey Tim Clukey

Tim Clukey teaches web design and development at Plattsburgh State University. He also routinely conducts research on search engine and user pattern behavior as a member of the Community Web Visibility Research Team.
      Visit Tim in the Communications Department where you'll find an array of excellent careers in the field of Communications


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