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Automakers Cough Up $4.6 Million To Change The Web Forever

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The internet is about to get a little more complicated.

According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, Chrysler, Fiat, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen have all applied for new domain name extensions. Launching websites that end in .Jeep and .Toyota should boost companies' marketing efforts and give fans more opportunities to connect with the brands they love, but will it cause confusion among everyday web surfers?

Once upon a time...

Not so long ago, the web was a simple, homely place, like a shopping mall with a 50% occupancy rate. We had Amazon and Yahoo and IMDB, of course, and a whole wing dedicated to Geocities, and another dedicated to...less family-friendly pursuits. But most surfers only had to remember three domain-name extensions -- .com, .net, and .org -- with three others reserved for the government (.gov), the military (.mil), and universities (.edu).

Then the mall expanded, bringing a host of two-letter country codes like .ly and .tv. And let's not forget the sad-sack storefronts known as .biz, .info, and .me.

Which was fine. Each of those extensions was intended to categorize websites and help surfers find what they need faster. For example, .com was originally the province of commercial sites, .org was meant for nonprofits, and so on.

But that was when we had relatively simple search engines. Thanks to new tools like semantic search, Google and its competitors are now much better at directing us to the destinations we seek. Accordingly, there's less of a need to stick with a handful of crowded domain extensions, where most of the prime real estate is already taken.

That's probably why the company that controls domain extensions -- the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN -- recently accepted over 25 applications from automakers to create domains like .Chevy, .Ford, and .Fiat. Well, that and the fact that automakers shelled out $185,000 a pop to control each of those extensions. If you don't have a calculator handy, that totals over $4,625,000.

What does it mean for you?

Just as the military controls usage of the .mil extension and countries have control over their two-letter codes (e.g. Libya technically controls .ly domains), automakers will oversee extensions like .Lexus. Unlike countries, however, which often allow the general public to purchase domains on their extensions (e.g. DriveSafe.ly), corporations are apt to maintain a much tighter rein.

So, what will these new domains mean for you, the web surfer? First and foremost, we'd expect automakers to reroute most of their corporate websites to these new domains. You might be used to entering Chevy.com into your browser's address bar, but soon, doing so may forward you to Welcome.Chevy. Not a big change, right?

But in this age of social networking, we'd also expect automakers to encourage engagement by allowing car owners and brand fans to set up sites of their own. For example, if you really love your '66 Mustang, you might be able to create a website for it at "My66Mustang.Ford".

Of course, you wouldn't just get a nifty webpage out of that deal. You'd also be evangelizing on Ford's behalf, and ultimately, you'd help create content for the .Ford family of sites. We could easily see a section of the .Ford website where blog posts, photos, and other notable tidbits from website owners would be featured on an "Our Fans" page. 

And let's not forget the advertising revenue that automakers can derive from this -- not to mention the enhanced ability that automakers will have to reach fans (and friends of fans).

The way of the future

By the way, it's not just automakers who are making this move. All told, ICANN received 1,930 applications for domain extensions, so expect to see .Target, .Walmart, and .Viagra popping up soon. 

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