By Jacqui Cheng | Published: June 26, 2008 – 12:11PM CT
By next spring, businesses and other organizations will be able to apply for any top-level domain they can possibly think of, like arstechnica.awesome or google.thegoogle. Joking aside, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted today in Paris on a measure that significantly expands the scope of generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs), allowing organizations to apply for almost any domain suffix they can dream up.
Up until now, the rules for TLDs are rather strict and tightly regulated. Beyond the typical .com, .net, and .org, there are only a handful of others TLDs that IP addresses can be registered under, including .tv, .biz, .mobi, and .us. Thanks to today’s unanimous vote, however, the list of possible options will skyrocket. “What we’re effectively doing is opening up huge amounts of online real estate,” ICANN president and CEO Paul Twomey told the Wall Street Journal before the vote took place.
Not every zany TLD will be immediately available to anyone who want to register a domain, however. Businesses must apply to register the TLD first, then go through a review process to ensure that it isn’t offensive and doesn’t infringe on anyone’s intellectual property. If approved, registering the TLD will cost anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000, ICANN says, and the business or organization must prove that they are either capable of managing the TLD or can reach a deal with a company that will. This is no small beans—unless you’re planning to fork over up to half a million dollars and put in the labor to manage everything that appears under the TLD, this task is probably best left to large organizations and governmental entities. The organization registering the TLD will also be responsible for determining whether it will be restricted to certain types of sites or open to the public.
ICANN has been debating the issue for some time now, and the committee involved has considered a number of issues that could become points of contention. For example, TLDs that represent countries or places may need to be restricted—if someone were to register .lat for Latin America, should anyone be able to use it for commercial purposes? What about .paris? Should it be limited to Paris, France, Paris, Texas, or should both share the same TLD? If .arab gets registered, should it apply to a geographic region or the more generalized culture?
Another major concern brought up during this week’s debates was whether opening up the TLD system to a Wild West rush would only lead to frustration for consumers. “I am looking for a family-friendly hotel experience in Berlin this summer. So under the gTLD scheme here, would I go to dot travel? Would I go to dot com? Or would I go to dot Berlin? Well, it’s family friendly, maybe I will go to dot fam. And after trying each of those four sites in the various directories I will have absolutely no certainty that I am looking at all the possibilities,” said NetChoice director Steve Delbianco during Monday’s discussions. “As a very frustrated consumer, I will be driven straight to the search engines.”
Still, ICANN apparently believes that changing its system will help foster huge amounts of growth in online properties. ICANN also voted today on whether to open up the TLD system to non-Latin characters, which has been a major sticking point for those wanting to register TLDs in, say, Chinese. The organization plans to submit the issue for public comment until it meets again in November to discuss it.