Our web address is inthebox.marketing. We chose this domain for a few reasons: it’s great for SEO as one of our industry keywords is in the domain; it says who we are and what we do in the most concise way possible; and it’s a bit different. Since using this domain however, we’ve encountered a few issues which we really didn’t expect…
TLDs and gTLDs
Let’s start with some definitions and a little history. Top Level Domains, or TLDs are the highest level of domain in a web address. Typically they’re the bit on the end like .com, .co.uk, .org, .gov etc. Since the inception of the internet, the most common TLDs were 2 letters long for country-specific domains, and 3 or 4 letters long for general-purpose domains like .com and .info. Therefore, the vast majority of TLDs were no longer than 4 characters in length. By 2011, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) had introduced a new range of generic TLDs (gTLDs) which removed the previously-held length restrictions. The new gTLDs greatly expanded the range of TLDs available and allowed companies to find better, more suitable domain names rather than desperately competing for the dwindling number of .com addresses that weren’t taken. Some popular examples of the new gTLDs include .blog, .marketing, .film, .photography, .food, .health, .software. The list goes on and on (the exhaustive list of gTLDs currently available can be found on this Wikepedia page). Indeed, ICANN even made it possible for wealthy companies to purchase their very own gTLD, such as .google.
As you’ve gathered, many of the new GTLDs are longer than 4 characters. In fact, most of them. So why’s that an issue? Well, it seems many popular websites won’t allow web addresses with gTLDs to register with them. We have experienced issues registering or creating new accounts with Microsoft, Hootsuite, Instagram and Crashplan, to name but a few. All within the past 9 months.
What’s the issue with gTLDs then?
As web developers ourselves, we believe we know the root of the problem. Typically, when you create a web form designed to capture user input, you want to validate that content to ensure that the data you capture is accurate. Common input validations include password strength, password matching, telephone numbers and email addresses. Email address validation is usually performed using a regular expression, which checks the format of the email entered against a pattern. Here’s an example courtesy of www.regular-expressions.info:
Understand that? Good. Essentially it’s checking that the email address matches a set of rules, such as the mandatory use of web-friendly characters and the presence of an @ in the middle. The crucial thing with this particular regular expression is that the number 4 near the end is checking that the TLD part isn’t longer than 4 characters. Try entering one of our email addresses into a field validated using this and you’ll get the familiar ‘Invalid email address’ message, or similar.
The solution is rather simple – just remove the 4 from the regular expression, allowing longer TLDs to validate. There are other regular expressions used for email validation, so they would need adapting accordingly, but essentially this problem can be solved by changing one line of code.
Now, I must clarify here that we believe this to be the source of the problem. It is possible, that for some inexplicable reason, a few companies may have actively made a decision not to support longer domains – perhaps for security purposes? But I find that hard to believe. Given that anyone can buy virtually any domain from any country, I can’t see that there’s a good reason to not support gTLDs.
Hootsuite’s official response to our support ticket was:
“Regrettably, we are not able to support the more modern (or ICANN-era) generic top-level domains.”
I fear the truth may be that they, and all the others, can’t be bothered to fix it. Clearly it doesn’t rank high enough because it doesn’t affect that many people, or perhaps not enough people have complained about it.
In the case of Hootsuite and Crashplan, both informed me that the solution was to register with another email domain – not ideal when you’re trying to run a business. And then when I suggested they raised it internally (as surely I couldn’t have been the first and only person to have faced this issue), proceeded to direct me to their forums where I could raise it with their developers. Right, so the onus is on me to help fix your buggy website, not you? Odd.
It’s important that we make it clear we’re not expecting the majority of businesses to have even known that this was an issue, let alone have taken steps to rectify it; after all, we didn’t. However, we would have expected some of the web’s biggest players such as Microsoft, Instagram, Hootsuite et al to have been more on the ball in the first place, or at least be more interested in solving what is a likely a simple problem with a simple fix.
If you’re worried that your web forms are blocking gTLDs, give it a try. Use a dummy email address with a long domain and see if it passes validation. If it doesn’t, maybe consider getting it fixed. gTLDs are here to stay and with increased uptake and new ones proposed, the problem is only going to get worse.
In the meantime, we struggle on with our gTLD, hoping that eventually the web will eventually catch up!