Some of the Net address endings, or new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) as they are known, have already gone live in recent days including “.guru” and “.singles.” And several non-English domains including the Chinese characters for “network” just became operational, followed by another wave of generic domains — among them “.camera” and “.gallery” — up for grabs starting Wednesday.
This unprecedented increase in Net domains promises a wave of opportunities for online identity building. “For the first time in a long, long time, you are going to have relevant short identities for your online presence,” says Mason Cole, spokesman at Donuts, a Bellevue, Wash.-based Net registry that plans to launch more than 100 new domains this year.
“Rather than the vague ‘.com’ or ‘.org’ … now a business, an individual, family or organization can attach an Internet presence to a term that is very specific,” Cole says. “If you are into biking, you now have ‘.bike.’ If you are a plumber, you now have ‘.plumbing.’ If you are a pizza restaurant, pretty soon you are going to have ‘.pizza.'”
Before the year 2000, there were only eight domains used – “.arpa,” “.com,” “.edu,” “.gov,” “.mil,” “.net,” “.int” and “.org.” (There were also country codes such as “.us” and “.uk.”) Two subsequent expansions yielded domains such as “.biz” and “.xxx” to bring the total of non-country domains to 22.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit group that manages such Net tasks, has approved more than 1,300 new domains, but will keep the additions to 1,000 or less this year. More than 120 new domains have been added to the Internet and will become available in the coming weeks.
“ICANN’s function is to increase competition and creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit,” says Brad White, the group’s director of global media affairs. “What we did was lift that artificial limit (of 22 domains) and give the innovators a blank canvas: You guys paint the future of the Internet.”
Those interested in owning a second-level domain — such as “mikes.bike — can go to an online registrar such as Name.com, GoDaddy.com and Network Solutions and attempt to purchase it. (Those companies then check with registries such as Donuts.co to see if it’s taken.)
Before domains are released, trademark holders have a chance to scoop up relevant addresses. “If you are Nike, you are going to get the first shot at ‘nike.shoes’ and the same with ‘dominos.pizza,'” says Donuts’ Cole.
Corporations have been faced with a decision whether to aggressively stake out new territory during the virtual land rush. “Big brand companies are dividing almost equally on whether to participate in this system or not to play,” says Peter Brody, an intellectual property attorney with the Washington firm Ropes & Gray who focuses on advertising and marketing disputes. “It really is unclear whether this is going to be a waste of money or is really going to catch on.”
For instance, Apple applied for, and was approved to administer, the “.apple” domain; while Microsoft and Sony got “.xbox” and “.playstation.”
Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Coke and Pepsi have not applied for a domain, each of which requires an $185,000 fee.
“Many brand owners are basically putting their heads in the sand and hoping that nothing bad will happen to them, and then we have others who are diving in with both feet,” Brody says. “And the new domain names may not simply be new Internet addresses for old content. It is entirely possible a whole new set of technologies and environments could develop … that will offer some really different user experiences.”