In 2012 the number of generic top-level domain names will be increased so that almost any word can be used as the final part of an internet address
A domain name is the technical term for the final part of an internet address: for instance, Computeractive’s domain name is computeractive.co.uk, while Microsoft owns the domains microsoft.com, microsoft.co.uk and more.
The final part of the domain name is known as the top-level domain, or TLD, which is split into several types.
There are country-specific TLDs such as .uk, under which domain names related to this country can operate (these are then split into other TLDs such as .co.uk for companies, .gov.uk for official domains and so on).
Then there are so-called ‘generic’ TLDs or GTLDs, the most popular of which is .com for commercial sites – others include .name for individuals’ sites, .aero for airlines and .xxx for pornographic sites.
Some people in the internet industry feel that these domains aren’t enough, and there should be more, so from next year things are going to change radically.
Any name you like
Currently, the list of GTLDs is tightly controlled and there isn’t a great deal of choice for people who want to buy a new domain name.
Not least because domains are essentially a limited resource: there’s only one johnsmith.com and it’s already been taken, so any other person called John Smith who wants his own domain name will have to settle for something other than johnsmith.com.
With almost 100 million .com domains registered already, the potential for finding a hidden gem is low. Some countries have even turned their own TLDs into specialist names: domains ending .tv are registered in the tiny island of Tuvalu.
In roughly a year’s time, the number of GTLDs will be expanded so almost any word can be used as the final part of an internet address: the BBC might buy .bbc, for instance, so that it could make a website for Top Gear called www.topgear.bbc.
A plumbing trade association might buy .plumber so that John Smith the plumber can have www.johnsmith.plumber, or John Smith the dentist could have www.johnsmith.dentist.
While this might seem confusing at first it’s being done for good reasons: it vastly expands the number of available domain names and gives people more of a chance to get a website name they want.
What’s going to happen?
The proposal for new GTLDs was approved in June this year by the organisation that oversees internet names (Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).
Applications for the new names opens in January, but don’t get your hopes up for getting one: there are several hurdles over which applicants will have to jump before they are granted their own domain suffixes.
The trickiest of these is likely to be the money. While you can buy a simple domain name (such as example.com) for less than £5 a year, each of the new names will cost $185,000 (£120,000) to start with, just to put the application in.
An owner of one of these new GTLDs will have a lot of power to decide who gets to use domains under that name, and so Icann says it will be thoroughly examining each application to make sure it passes muster.
It’s likely that the high fee – and there will be a $25,000 (£16,000) annual fee afterwards for each GTLD – is designed to deter ‘time-wasters’ who don’t have serious intentions. Then there are the hundreds of pages of guidelines for applicants to read and adhere to.
The official timetable for the new names says the initial applications will be taken between 12 January and 12 April 2012 and evaluation will be completed by November 2012.
In the least-complicated cases, the first new GTLDs will start to become available in December 2012 or January 2013.
The complication will arise if two people or companies contest the right to a single GTLD. In the case of a well-known brand (such as .google), there is likely to be no problem, but for a more standard name such as .computer there are likely to be lots of companies fighting for the right to control the GTLD.
According to Icann, those disputed applications might take another year to resolve. New names won’t be limited to English: they’ll be available in Chinese, Arabic and other scripts too.
According to the AP news agency, Icann is expecting between 500 and 1,000 new GTLDs to be created. It’s not known exactly who has applied so far – Icann says that information won’t be made public until the end of April.
However, some companies and organisations have already declared their intentions, such as Canon which has said it’s going to apply for the .canon name. Similarly, Hitachi is going to apply for the .hitachi GTLD.
An American company called Dotmovie, which already specialises in domain names for films, will be applying for the .movie domain on which studios can host websites for films.
A London-based internet company has applied for the .london name and others have applied for .radio, .skate and more.
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