(Disclaimer: My company is doing work on a variety of fronts for MLS Domains Association, the group formed by 15 leading MLSs to seek a new top-level domain, .MLS, in the Internet, for use only by MLSs. I also approached CMLS, these leading MLSs, and leading consultants in the industry last fall urging that the industry consider this idea. I am by no means unbiased on the issue – on the contrary, I feel very passionate about it.)
MLS Domains Association formed last month, and the response from MLSs has been very supportive: many MLSs have expressed an intention to join the Association (and one joined as a Founder last week); some have expressed uncertainty about whether the idea will work; a few have indicated that they do not think they will join; and a very few have expressed outright opposition to the idea. I wanted to take a few words to explain why I think the industry should get entirely behind the MLS Domains Association.
For the last eight months, CEOs from some of the most innovative and successful MLSs in the U.S. have been doing intensive research, thinking critically about the future of MLSs on the Internet, and investing the resources of their organizations to consider, develop, and launch MLS Domains Association.
Why do these MLSs believe .MLS makes sense?
The main reason is that top-level domains on the Internet are poised to change radically in the next couple years. (A “top-level domain” or “TLD” is the part to the far right of a domain name, .COM, .NET, .ORG, etc.) The .COM TLD is the gold standard today; but almost every conceivable word or name on .COM is already registered. It’s very difficult to get decent names on it. The erosion of the dominance of .COM may already have begun. Consider the businesses that use two-letter country-code TLDs for their services now:
- Social bookmarking site del.icio.us
- URL shorteners bit.ly, goo.gl, and ow.ly;
- Arts magazine vita.mn (pronounced ‘vitamin’);
- Online radio station jack.fm;
- Music sharing site blip.fm.
Beginning early in 2011, the door will be open wide for businesses and associations from around the world to apply to ICANN (the international company that runs the top-level domains) to operate new top-level domains. I anticipate that we will see many of the following:
- Industry TLDs. NAR has already said it is seeking a ‘unifying’ TLD for all aspects of real estate. There will almost certainly be .LAW, .MED, and similar profession-oriented TLDs.
- Last name TLDs. As of 1990, there were more than 2.5 million folks in the U.S. with the last name “Smith.” Most of them probably did not register their own names as domains when that was possible; NancySmith.com was gone a long time ago. I expect some enterprising entrepreneurs will attempt to set up. .SMITH, along with .JOHNSON, .WILLIAMS, .JONES, .BROWN (all representing surnames numbering more than a million in the U.S. alone). Then Nancy will be able to have Nancy.Smith and Tom will be able to have Tom.Jones as their domain names.
- Company TLDs. You don’t have to be particularly imaginative to think of the applications for a company like FedEx to have .FEDEX or for Pepsi Co to have .PEPSI. We anticipate many large corporations will seek to own their own exclusive ‘real estate’ on the Internet.
According to Bob Parsons, CEO of leading domain registrar GoDaddy, some parents won’t give their baby a name if the domain for that name is not available; but in the future, he expects that everyone will get a domain name as soon as he/she is born. With the proliferation top-level domains and the paucity of available .COM domains, it’s likely many of those names will be on TLDs other than .COM.
In such a world, search engines will guide consumers to the new TLDs because the contents available at sites on them will be relevant to the consumer’s searches. Sites at .MLS domains will receive higher rankings if consumers search for “MLS” on search engines. For example, a search for “denver mls” on Google would certainly rank a site at “DENVER.MLS” high in the results. But because .MLS addresses will be so relevant to real estate and real estate listings, it’s likely a search for “denver homes for sale” will also give ranking preference to “DENVER.MLS.” Consumers will be more prone to select search results that have .MLS TLDs because consumers may believe they will provide more reliable information.
MLS Domains Association has plans to market the TLD to consumers as the only place on the web where they can be sure they are connecting with a real MLS.
It might fail
The web is changing, and MLS Domains Association is positioning MLSs to take advantage of the changes. Of course, the Association’s effort might fail. Perhaps too few MLSs will join, or they will not claim enough addresses on the domain for it to be viable. Perhaps the Association’s application to ICANN will fail.
But the entire effort to attempt to get the .MLS TLD will cost less than $1 million over two years, of which 16 Founder MLSs have already committed more than $300,000. Compare this to the cost of other industry-wide (or even local) efforts, and you can see why it does not make sense NOT to seek the .MLS TLD.
I’ve been thinking and advising clients about how best to serve the interests of brokers on the Internet for more than 15 years. One thing I’ve learned is that we have to make decisions about the future based on imperfect knowledge. But with vision, determination, and resources, we give ourselves the best chance to make the future in which we want to do business.
What do you think?