Fifteen multiple listing services have formed a nonprofit company that will seek the authority to create and manage a new "generic" top-level Internet domain, .MLS, that only MLSs would be allowed to use.

The new company, the MLS Domains Association, will invite all MLSs — including broker-owned services not affiliated with the National Association of Realtors — to join.

"Our goal is to create a place, the .MLS top-level domain, where the Web sites actually belong to MLSs, not to other types of business," said Bob Bemis, chief executive officer of the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service and interim president of the MLS Domains Association, in a press release.

Fifteen multiple listing services have formed a nonprofit company that will seek the authority to create and manage a new "generic" top-level Internet domain, .MLS, that only MLSs would be allowed to use.

The new company, the MLS Domains Association, will invite all MLSs — including broker-owned services not affiliated with the National Association of Realtors — to join.

"Our goal is to create a place, the .MLS top-level domain, where the Web sites actually belong to MLSs, not to other types of business," said Bob Bemis, chief executive officer of the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service and interim president of the MLS Domains Association, in a press release.

Brian Larson, an attorney and consultant who is advising the new company, said the MLS Domains Association hopes to have at least 175 of the nation’s roughly 900 MLSs signed up by the fourth quarter of 2010, when it plans to apply to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to obtain, manage and promote the use of the .MLS top-level domain.

That level of participation will be critical to both defray the company’s costs — the ICANN application process alone is expected to be $185,000 — and to demonstrate to ICANN that the MLS Domains Association represents the industry, Larson said.

"If the industry doesn’t support it, it won’t happen," Larson said.

Because mid-size and large MLSs are expected to be the most likely to participate, having 175 MLSs on board could translate into MLS Domains Association representing 85 percent of MLS subscribers, Larson said.

Benefits

Creating a .MLS top-level domain will make key geographical domains available — like Texas.MLS and Chicago.MLS — that were snatched up years ago on the .COM, .NET and .ORG top-level domains, the company said.

The National Association of Realtors allows Realtor-affiliated MLSs to ban their own members from using the terms "MLS" and "Multiple Listing Service" from Web site URLs, company names, e-mail addresses and other marketing materials (see story).

But Under U.S. trademark law, MLSs cannot claim exclusive use to the term "multiple listing service," and many third-party companies that are not MLSs have claimed .COM or .NET domain names that include the term MLS, such as freeMLS.com. …CONTINUED

The MLS Domains Association would not seek to interfere with the use of existing domain names registered by non-MLSs, but would not allow non-MLSs to register .MLS domain names, Larson said.

Once MLSs start using and marketing the .MLS top level domain, it’s hoped that consumers will come to see those sites as the definitive source of the most reliable listings information, the MLS Domains Association said.

Sites using the .MLS top-level domain may show up higher in search-engine rankings in searches that include "MLS" as a keyword, the company said.

Larson said businesses are increasingly moving to generic or country-code top-level domains, because so many useful .COM, .NET and .ORG domains are already registered.

Unconventional country-code domains now in use include ow.ly and bit.ly — URL shortening services that use Libya’s country code — and despicable.me, the Web site for an upcoming film that uses Montenegro’s country code, Larson noted. Another example is outside.in, a site focused on hyperlocal news that uses India’s country code.

In addition to Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service Inc., founding members of the MLS Domains Association include the Austin Board of Realtors/ACTRIS, Carolina Multiple Listing Services Inc., First Multiple Listing Service Inc., Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., Midwest Real Estate Data LLC, Multi Regional Multiple Listing Service, Multiple Listing Service Inc., My Florida Regional MLS, Realcomp II Ltd., Realtor Association of Greater Ft. Lauderdale, Regional Multiple Listing Service of Minnesota Inc., Southern California Multiple Listing Service, TREND MLS, and Triangle Multiple Listing Service.

Process

Larson said other MLSs will be invited to participate once policies relating to membership, domain registration and dispute resolution are in place.

If there’s enough interest, the MLS Domains Association will ask ICANN for the authority to manage the .MLS top-level domain through a new "generic top-level domain," or gTLD process, Larson said.

ICANN calls the gTLD application process "complex and involved," as it "requires the coordination and consensus of many groups and factions." Depending on the complexity of an application, the process can take eight to 19 months, the group said in a "frequently asked questions" bulletin.

If ICANN grants MLS Domains Association the authority to manage the .MLS top-level domain, Larson said it’s likely that domains would be granted on a first-come, first-served basis to members who join during a "sunrise marketing period" in coming weeks.

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