What's Wrong With the URL in This Picture?

By Doug Isenberg I never really thought I'd take a picture inside a portable toilet -- let alone write about it for a legal blog. But, as a domain name attorney, I couldn't help myself when I saw the sign below:

What, exactly, is the website address (that is, the URL) for the company operating this facility?

I had studied ICANN's list of 1,930 applications for new gTLDs just a few days ago, and I certainly didn't recall seeing ".unitedsiteservices" on it. (The list jumped from ".unicorn" to ".university". Seriously.) And, even if I did, ICANN has made clear that no new gTLDs will be approved and delegated until at least the first quarter of next year.

So, "www.unitedsiteservices" is not a valid URL. Try typing it into your web browser (as I did, just for kicks -- yes, I know better) and you'll get a "Server not found" message.

The answer, of course, is that the real URL is "www.unitedsiteservices.com". That's right, the sign omits the gTLD ".com".

Omitting the beginning and often superfluous "www." from a URL (in advertising or when entering it online) is a rather common practice and typically will not affect anything. (Indeed, it's actually a good idea; as English writer Douglas Adams once reportedly said, "The World Wide Web is the only thing I know of whose shortened form takes three times longer to say than what it's short for.")

But, omitting a top-level domain from a web address renders it useless.

I've seen some pretty funny URLs through the years -- and the website "Good URL Bad URL" has documented some great ones. But I can't ever recall seeing a URL in an advertisement that omitted the top-level domain.

Now, I have no way of knowing whether the omission of ".com" from this sign was accidental or purposeful. Perhaps someone thought it wasn't necessary because it wouldn't fit or because, duh, all website addresses end in ".com".

Of course, not all website addresses end in ".com".

If sign makers or companies are confused about domain names today, what will happen when hundreds of new gTLDs start to appear next year? Will it confuse matters even more -- or, will it only reinforce the already-entrenched ".com" as the default?

We'll find out soon. So, hang onto your seat.