by Shana Dines
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced their unanimous decision to allow new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) last month.
Generic top-level domains are the series of letters at the right end of a website address. The most commonly used gTLDs are .com, and .org, while some restricted TLDs include .gov and .edu. There are also country code TLDs, like .il for Israel and .au for Australia.
This program, set to take effect in early 2009, could potentially add limitless new gTLDs to the realm of IP addresses.
The news comes to a mixture of reactions, ranging from fear to excitement to apathy.
Some are predicting bidding wars to ensure over highly sought after words. This could have the ripple effect of bringing on a second dot-com boom and subsequent crash. Companies could potentially have to contend with cyber-squatters and domain speculators over domains that have a clear connection to their brand names.
Others think this will have little or no impact on normal internet users. Back in 2000, ICANN introduced seven new TLDs, including .biz, .info, and .museum, that resulted in almost no effect on day to day internet use.
ICANN is developing an application process that will require all proposed gTLDs to pass through an evaluation, safeguarding for issues like potential trademark infringement or offensiveness. For example, if someone tried to register .disney without the consent of the corporation, a red flag should be raised.
In 2007, ICANN refused to allow .xxx as a TLD that would be restricted to adult-content (read: porn) websites. Those in favor of the TLD thought it would be an easy way to protect children from such websites by relegating them to a separate section of the Internet. First proposed in 2001, ICANN ultimately rejected it so as not to appear to approve of pornography websites.
It is yet unclear whether .xxx or similar TLDs will be approved in the new scheme.
However, don't expect to see gTLDs coming from just anywhere.
The projected cost of registering a new gTLD will be from $100,000 to $500,000. In addition, the purchasing party will have to prove to ICANN that they have the ability to manage the TLD or can reach a deal with a company who will.
Managing a TLD entails maintaining a registration service for second-level domains within the TLD (like typepad.com). Domain name registrars are subject to approval by ICANN and are overseen by the TLD Registry. There are over 500 domain name registration services for .com websites.
Still, many are expecting a gold-rush style bidding frenzy to snatch up new gTLDs.
It has taken years of discussion and debate for ICANN to reach this decision. Their goal with relaxing the regulation of gTLDs is "to preserve the security, stability, and global interoperability of the Internet," according to the ICANN website.
Back in the 1980s when the internet was first being developed, the domain-name system (DNS) was set-up as an easy way to organize and search for website addresses. There is speculation as to how this change will affect users searching new TLDs by directories; however popular search engines should remain comprehensive and useful.