In the almost two decades since the World Wide Web went public, most of the world's 240 million Web addresses have centered on a handful of extensions: .com, .net, .org, .gov and .mil. Although 15 other generic top level domains (gTLD) came into existence between 2000 and 2004—including.info, .biz and .mobi—the public has never expressed much interest in them. As a result, the original group of domains has become increasingly crowded.
Now a slew of new gTLDs has arrived, thanks to approval from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). In the months ahead, individuals and businesses from around the world could see upward of 1,400 new domain names, including offerings in Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, Greek and Hindu. In addition, an array of catchy domain names such as .bike, .clothing, .photography, .plumbing, .realestate, .restaurant, .vacations and .wine are available—or soon will be.
This represents a major change. Akram Atallah, president of ICANN's Generic Domains Division, believes that these new gTLDs will bring "people, communities and businesses together in ways we never imagined. It's this type of innovation that will continue to drive our global society."
Some analysts say the introduction of the gTLDs could reduce, if not eliminate, the need for silly and strange names, while spawning new types of commerce and interactions. The rollout of these new domains will occur during the next 30 weeks or so.
For example, Daniel Negari, a 28-year-old entrepreneur who made his mark in real estate, says he is planning to make .xyz a generic domain name that anyone can place at the end of any Website. He thinks he can sell at least a million second-level domains in his first year of operation, at a price of less than $10 each, generating about $10 million in revenue during the first year alone.
"Within 10 years, there will likely be a billion domain names registered," Negari says. Others are also moving in to scoop up various top-level domains and offer them to buyers.
However, some industry observers have accused ICANN of creating new gTLDs simply to expand its revenue potential (it receive 25 cents for every second-level domain sold, as well as other miscellaneous fees), and a fair number of them question the viability of all the new names. After all, previous introductions of new domain names caused little more than a ripple in the vast sea of the Internet.
For instance, ICANN reports only a little more than 400 requests for.museum, just over 20,000 registrations for .travel, and about 110,000 .xxx domain sites. The last one was supposed to help relegate porn to a more discreet corner of the Web.
There's also the fact that many of the details haven't been completely sorted out. Some individuals have expressed concerns over security and stability—particularly with new domain wholesalers popping up, and potential name collisions involving certificate authorities such as Symantec and Trend Micro.
ICANN and others claim that many of these concerns have been addressed. What's more, a trademark clearinghouse has been set up to help manage the process and protect brands.
How the new virtual land grab will shake out remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: Operating on the Web isn't getting any simpler.