DOT.WHAT?

This internet address costs $2,500 annually—and it sucks

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“There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed, and we can take it no longer,” intones Martin Luther King Jr. over rousing images of civil unrest. A smiling young boy runs carefree in a field, backlit by the orange glow of the sinking sun. An all-American family tumble around outside their suburban home, joyously throwing autumn leaves at each other. Inspiring music plays in the background as Ralph Nader, an American consumer advocate and sometime presidential hopeful, comes on screen. “The word sucks is now a protest word and it’s up to people to give it more meaning,” he says.

There are many words that can be used to describe the promotional video for .sucks, a new generic top-level domain (gTLD) name that goes on sale March 30. Subtle is not one of them.

Dot-sucks is one of hundreds of new domains coming online this year as part of an effort to grow the web beyond the hegemony of .com and .net, and to give consumers a wider choice of internet addresses to pick from. The new domains include everything from .app (for which Google just paid $25 million at auction) and .email to .guru and .social. But few have been as controversial as .sucks.

At the heart of the controversy is what .sucks is for. Critics see it as a “predatory shakedown scheme,” in the memorable words of one American politician. Vox Populi, the owner of .sucks, for months promoted the idea that it would charge trademark holders $25,000 to register a .sucks domain. Companies have little choice but to cough up the money to register their brand names on .sucks. If they don’t, someone else will.

That price proved too ambitious. The confirmed price is a still-hefty $2,499, payable yearly. “The entire extension is based on brand extortion,” Rick Schwartz, a domain industry veteran, told Marketing Land, a trade blog.

That is not how .sucks sees it. “This gTLD can have value far beyond almost any of the other gTLDS,” argues John Berard, who runs Vox Populi. “We think it can have value for companies, especially in terms of being able to deliver customer service, build customer loyalty, and even R&D. When you look at it that way, $2,499 is well priced.”

Berard’s argument is that .sucks gives companies a central place to deal with complaints and customer-service queries, and allows them to remain in control. Moreover, the $2,499 price tag is only for copyright holders and other premium domains, such as this.sucks or other obvious words. The standard price for a .sucks domain is $249, which is cheaper than some of the other premium domains. For example, a domain on .luxury retails for close to $800.

Moreover, the registry is offering consumer advocates a $10 subsidized rate, roughly the same as a .com website. “The word sucks is no longer a pejorative,” he says. As for how Ralph Nader got involved, Berard says that in a way the whole thing was Nader’s idea in the first place. In March 2000, Essential Information, a non-profit founded by Nader, wrote to the body that oversees domain names suggesting, among other things, a .sucks domain: “We recognize the .sucks TLD will be offensive to some persons, but we do not think that this should exclude .sucks from being approved by ICANN.”

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