[CollegeNameHere].com coming to a browser near you

Even though colleges have their own Internet domain, .edu, some colleges are thinking about branching out into .com addresses:

Some observers worry, though, that an influx of new names might dilute the power of “.edu,” which has been the online way to say “a legitimately accredited institution of higher education in the United States.”

Weber State University is among those that have already started branching out, with “getintoweber.com” as an online destination. It is “a vanity URL we pursued to dovetail with our ‘Get Into Weber’ marketing campaign that started in 2007,” says John L. Kowaleski, director of media relations. “We wanted something catchy and easy to remember, since the intended audience for “getintoweber.com” was prospective students.”

Why not simply add a “getintoweber.edu” address to the existing “weber.edu“? Because “.edu” is restricted by the “one per institution” rule that has been in effect since 2001, says Gregory A. Jackson, a vice president of Educause, the higher-education-technology group that administers the “.edu” domain. “The U.S. Commerce Department, which gave us the contract to administer the domain, views ‘.edu’ as something that identifies an institution, not multiple names that mean the same institution,” he says…

Asking the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers for a domain of one’s own—”.weberstate” or “.trinity,” for instance—would avoid some of those problems. But that’s an expensive route to go. A college has to pay Icann $185,000 to become the administrator of a domain, and then $25,000 each year to maintain it. And the college has to adhere to strict rules about who gets the domain and who doesn’t, which could cause other problems. “What if you say that alumni can have ‘.dartmouth’ in order to strengthen connection to the school?” Mr. Jackson says. “And then an alumnus involved in some shady dealings uses that address? You can’t ban them. Icann won’t let you pick who you like and who you don’t.”

If the .com addresses are just for marketing purposes, why haven’t more colleges gone this route already? It isn’t very hard to set up a targeted site and then link through to the college’s main page.

It sounds like some of the issue is the meaning or symbolism behind the .edu domain. If prospective students and parents are searching for schools, they know the .edu domain is pretty safe. The .com realm is more open and there could be some confusion about who put the site together. Particularly for less comfortable web users, going to a .edu could be a safer and trustworthy proposition.

Of course, the rules about the use of .edu sites hints at bigger problems across the internet: a need for more domains to provide more online pages.

(With all of this talk, shouldn’t some enterprising people buy up a bunch of the possible .com sites? For example, wheatoncollege.com is available but wheaton.com is not. )

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