Up until now, the web has been organized using only a handful of generic top-level domains (gTLDs)— a fancy description of the words that come after the dot in a URL, such as .com, .net, .gov. But now, the Internet will face the biggest virtual land grab in its history. Starting today, 100 new top-level domains will be available through registrars like GoDaddy and Namecheap.
This massive expansion is overseen by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit organization charged with governing these new domains. New gTLDs fall into two categories: generic and brands. Generic TLDs include domains such as .photograpy, .bike, or .guru, whereas brand TLDs are reserved for the mega-corporations that can easily front the $185,000 price tag for a new domain. This means companies such as Google (who has registered for 101 TLDs) could brand websites with .google or .android. These domains will be controlled by the businesses themselves, who can use them however they want.
So why did ICANN decide to add so many new TLDs, and why now? These new domain additions have been a long time coming. Eight years ago, the multilateral community which oversees Internet policies charged ICANN with developing new domains. After years of preparation, ICANN opened a six-month application period in January 2012. “The community and ICANN anticipated about 500 applicants,” says Cyrus Nazami, vice president of domain name services with ICANN. “We ended up with 1930 applicants. There was just a gold rush-type of interest of coming in and putting your stake in the ground.”
Of the nearly 2000 applicants, 500 hundred were from major corporations such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Ford, and BMW. Only 1300 were unique domains. This means some more common, potentially valuable domain names (.web, .book, .mail) were up for grabs. If multiple parties apply for the same domain, ICANN pushed for applicants to work out solution among themselves, but did hold what they call “an auction of last resort” when no solution was met. After another 18 months of processing applications, the first new domain names are ready to make their debut.
Nazami sees many reasons why these new domains will improve the web, but one reason takes precedent—the internet just needed more space. In April 2013, 111 million URLs ended in .com, with .net coming in second with 15 million. ICANN says small businesses and individuals were having a tough time finding an available domain that would work for them.
“Thirty or forty years ago, people basically had two, three, or four television stations, but today there are hundreds of them,” Nazami says. “They’re all specifically focused on a common interest, whether it be home and garden, automobiles, mechanics, or cooking. People identify with content specifically tailored.” Nazami also says that brand TLDs should give consumers peace of mind. When searching for say BMW, users can identify any website with the top-level domain .bmw as an official site. The new domains also bolster international web addresses as ICANN now allows a TLD to be made from one of dozens of different scripts, such as Chinese or Russian.