Domain names face a number of threats, including AI personal assistants.
Our industry seems to spend a lot of energy battling between the relative value of old top level domain names versus new ones. It doesn’t spend enough time paying attention to the threats that the domain industry faces as a whole.
As I explained on the DNW Predictions podcast last week, one of these possible threats is starting to appear.
A lot of people have said that voice control is a threat to domain names. I disagree. The idea of people telling their web browser where to go via voice does not eliminate the need for navigational signposts like domain names.
Yet, we are now inviting a new way of getting information and ordering goods directly into our living room: Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and the like. We also have AI-powered personal assistants like Google Assistant and Siri.
Yes, these can use voice. But what makes these different than just using your voice to nagivate is that they anticipate your needs and act as the gatekeeper. So while voice is not a threat to domain names in and of itself, AI-powered assistants are.
If a personal assistant anticipates your needs then you don’t need to go to your browser to find the information you were going to look for. This includes both simple information requests and commerce transactions. That’s bad for domain names.
Consider your personal assistant informing you:
“Your mom’s birthday is in four weeks. May I suggest you order flowers? Say yes to place an order for a dozen flowers, to be delivered on X date, for $29.95”.
Think about the searches and website visits this removes from the ecosystem. An e-commerce transaction can occur without the user ever viewing or thinking about the web.
In many ways, Amazon Echo is a new web browser, too. We ask it questions that we’d normally type on our phone. No domain names and no websites are visible to the user.
It’s unclear how many people own a standalone device like the Echo, but Amazon’s sales over the holidays exceeded even its own expectations, as evidenced by its stockout. And these devices can be built into your phone, such as Google Assistant and Siri, without the need for a separate device.
I think the threat is real. This services don’t eliminate the need for domain names, but they can reduce the value of having a high-quality one.
I hope the domain industry can come together as one rather than fighting about why one name is better than another. There are good reasons that businesses should own their own domain name rather than rely on gatekeepers like Google, Amazon and Facebook. As Matt Mullenweg, creator of WordPress, told me in DNW podcast #91 this year, it’s more important than ever for people to own their own domain and web presence. But I fear that the utility of the Amazon Echo and personal assistants will make domain names less and less relevant.
We might start seeing some of the effects of this in 2017. We can sit around and gripe about gatekeepers, or we can rally together to spread a message about the importance of not relying solely on the gatekeepers. Call it an independence movement; explaining to people how owning their own domain name frees them from tyranny. Of course, anything we can do to bring domain names into the ecosystem of the ease-of-use of AI assistants will also help.