Today, the Dutch registry SIDN announced that, starting mid-January 2008, it will be possible to register numerical .nl domains. Now, do I think that these will be wildly popular?

In the past, SIDN policy has been rather restrictive. For example, a “regular” Dutch domain name could only be registered by companies, not by private citizens. In other words, it was by all means possible for my one-man company AfterImage to register the domain name “afterimage.nl” (as well as any other name that was still available), but as private citizen Marcel Feenstra I was unable to register “marcelfeenstra.nl”… 🙁

The idea was that the same name was often used by more than one person (John Smith, anyone?), and it was somehow “unfair” to allocate the associated domain name based on the principle “First come, first served”. Therefore, SIDN introduced the concept of the “personal domain”: three semi-random digits, followed by “.nl” and preceded by the person’s name; e.g., I could have been the lucky owner of “marcelfeenstra.713.nl”. For some reason, personal domains never took off in The Netherlands… 😉

However, because of these personal domains, SIDN felt that it was confusing, and therefore undesirable, to have “regular” domains that were entirely numerical –that is, up until today.

Starting next year, it will be possible to register domains consisting of digits and/or hyphens –so people can create “vanity domains” that show when they were born or got married, say, or that match their telephone numbers.

I do not think that the new domains will be a success, and here’s why. In my site Domeinnaam voor beginners (in Dutch, sorry), I explain how the Internet system uses “IP addresses” for its underlying addressing needs. An IP address is actually a number, normally represented by four groups of digits, separated by periods, e.g. “209.200.52.199”.

Unfortunately, these numbers are a little hard to remember, so we use “domain names” –for example, “lockergnome.com” instead of the IP address I just mentioned! (Actually, using something called “host headers”, it is also possible for domain names to share IP addresses, but that is beyond the scope of this article.)

There may be a few cases where numerical domain names make sense (e.g., “112.nl” –112 is the Dutch equivalent of the American 911 emergency phone number), but I find it hard to imagine that anyone would ever use, say, “20920052199.nl” or “209-200-52-199.nl”.

In general, numerical domains simply look like a step back to me –and I don’t believe that the days of the Internet are numbered.