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New era for Web site names begins Thursday

ICANN expects a flood of applications for domains such as .hotel, .paris and non-English words

By , Network World
January 11, 2012 01:16 PM ET

Network World - A new era of Web site naming begins Thursday, when Internet policymakers start accepting applications for hundreds - perhaps thousands - of new domain name extensions such as .hotel and .paris.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will launch its program for new generic Top-Level Domains on Jan. 12, with applications due three months later on April 12.

Experts say the new gTLD program represents the biggest change to the Internet's naming system since 1998, when ICANN itself was formed.

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"It's a significant change," says Fred Felman, Chief Marketing Officer for MarkMonitor, which provides online brand protection services to U.S. corporations including FedEx and DuPont. "It's probably the biggest change since the first expansion of the Internet, from a small number of registries to 23 registries."

Today, domain names are available in 280 domains, including generic terms such as .com for commerce and country codes such as .de for Germany.

Around 220 million domain names are registered worldwide, according to Verisign's Domain Name Industry Brief published in December 2011. The original domain for business -- .com - continues to dominate, representing around 100 million of all registered names.

"I'm thinking that the number of new domains will be in the 1,000 range....So we're talking about a 5X increase in the number of available domains," says Roland LaPlante, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Afilias, which operates .info, .org and 13 other domain name registries. "I think the biggest change is in adjusting consumer behavior and generating trust in these new TLDs."

ICANN's controversial plan to add hundreds of new domains has been in the works for six years.

ICANN has run two previous efforts to expand the Internet domain name space: once in 2000, when it added seven extensions including .biz and .info; and again in 2004, when it added eight more extensions such as .asia and .jobs. None of these new domain name extensions has been a runaway success.

If ICANN's latest attempt to expand the domain name space succeeds, it could fundamentally change the way domain names are used. Among the new categories of domain names that are expected to be approved include: internationalized domain names in non-English language scripts; geographically oriented domains for cities and regions; domain names tied to specific interests; as well as domain names tied to individual companies and brands.

"The innovation is going to be in the name itself and the way it gets used from a marketing standpoint," LaPlante says. "Most of the applications are pretty plain vanilla technically. There will be some eligibility verification that will be interesting and useful. There will be some registry services that will be offered that aren't available today. But most of the new registries will operate the way they do today."

The biggest innovation in the new gTLDs is likely to be internationalized domain names, which can support non-English language characters such as Arabic, Chinese and Cyrillic in the domain name extension. This means that U.S. companies selling their products overseas will be able to purchase domain names for their brands that are 100% in native language character sets such as simplified Chinese.

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