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Here comes verizon.sucks, but will it help or hurt the company?

Here comes verizon.sucks, but will it help or hurt the company?

Verizon.sucks? BankofAmerica.sucks? Yahoo.sucks?

The Internet and social media networks like Twitter (TWTR) and Facebook (FB) already provide an outlet for unsatisfied consumers, disgruntled employees and anonymous haters to vent their fury against companies that have drawn their wrath. But the venting could reach a whole new level in a few months when a new Internet address suffix goes online: .sucks.

Companies will have to decide whether it's worth $2,500 a year to tie up a .sucks address during a 60-day early access period set aside for trademark owners and celebrities that begins March 30. If they don't, anyone in the world will be able to register the name and set up their own protest site.

Another controversial new suffix, .porn, has already begun its early access period, drawing registrations from Microsoft (MSFT), Harvard University and even pop star Taylor Swift. Celebrities have more experience with the problems that may arise, having dealt with a barrage of new web site names when the .xxx suffix opened for business four years ago.

The newest offbeat suffixes added to the Internet's domain name system are just a few of the hundreds that have been approved over the past two years. Most are far more innocuous, including .party, .shoes and .accountant.

The new suffixes are intended to unleash a barrage of creative energy, and perhaps a few marketing dollars, by breaking free of the crowded .com space. Over 100 million names have already been taken in .com, including almost every word in the dictionary.

The non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, which governs the system, established the procedure for adding new suffixes in 2011 and has been slowly working its way through almost 2,000 initial applications. So far, it has approved more than 500, with new additions released daily.

"It's about enhancing consumer choice, increasing competition and creativity in the marketplace," says ICANN spokesman James Cole.

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In many cases, that's just what has happened. Quiksilver, a top surfing gear maker, snapped up new domains in the .surf group including wetsuits.surf and boardshorts.surf. 

It could happen even with the controversial .sucks domain, says John Berard, CEO of the Vox Populi Registry that's overseeing registrations for the new suffix.

"In 2015, I think it's fair to say the word is no longer a pejorative, but a point of emphasis," Berard says. "Twitter is saying harassment sucks. It's a rallying cry, a challenge."

Companies could register .sucks in their own names and use the sites to collect complaints and comments from their customers, Berard suggests. Or, they could allow ordinary people to run sites and still learn from whatever is posted. "It is an opportunity to create a well lighted place for criticism and collaboration."

The new domains will cost $2,500 for companies and $250 for consumers after the sunrise period ends. There's also a limited $10-a-year option if a consumer agrees to make the site part of Vox Populi's discussion network. Some complain that the .sucks offering is a form of extortion aimed at firms that may feel compelled to buy the domain name to prevent others from potentially tainting their brands.

Former Sen. Jay Rockefeller, while still in Congress last year, wrote to ICANN urging that .sucks be rejected and calling it “little more than a predatory shakedown scheme.”

But some domain name experts suggest the controversy is overblown. "Brand consultants thrive on paranoia and that's what we see with .sucks and the effort to make brands pay the $2,500," says Christopher Hofman, managing partner of the European Domain Centre. Companies should calm down and allow consumers to register .sucks domains, he says. "It's actually a positive, as it's a way to find out why your brand sucks and do something about it," he says.

That's not the way brand owners see it, says Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, which represents large and small companies that collectively spend $250 billion a year on advertising.

"I'm not hearing from any of our members how great it is that there's .sucks or .gripes names," Jaffe says. "It seems more like an effort to squeeze money out of people than to serve a legitimate purpose."

With early registration starting next week and .sucks domains open to the public in June, that debate may soon be settled.

Correction: This story was updated on March 24, 2015 to correct the spelling of the name of James Cole.