It’s the dawn of a new internet era – and the .com may be its first casualty. The US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) on Wednesday published 1,930 requests it has received for new domain suffixes.
Today, there are only 22 domain suffixes including .com, .net and .org (in addition to geographic suffixes), but there could be as many as 1,000 by the end of a process being carried out by ICANN.
New addresses ending in .paris, .hotel, .shop, or .eco could indeed soon end the longstanding monopoly of .com, .org, and .net.
“Out of 215 million existing Web sites, 100 million are .coms,” said Stéphane Van Gelder, CEO of French domain name management company Indom and the president of GNSO, the group that sets the standards that must be met by new extensions.
Van Gelder explained that the .com supremacy has been blamed for search-result traffic jams on the Web: “If you’re doing a Google search for a hotel in Paris, for example, it’s getting more and more difficult to obtain a relevant search result.”
According to Van Gelder, the multiplication of domain names would make a Web search for a Parisian hotel, for example, much easier. The search engine would first locate sites ending in .paris as a way of ensuring that the hotel was really in the French capital (Paris’s mayoral office would have to approve all applicants for the .paris extension).
Shelling out the big bucks
The new crop of domain names won’t just help Web users navigate the Internet more easily - it will also line the pockets of the already-established Internet giants.
“If the company that manages the .com domain [currently the US company Verisign] were to disappear, it would be technical chaos for Google or Facebook,” warned Van Gelder, adding that domain names such as .facebook, .youtube, and others would free Web giants from that dependence.
So far not one of the new suffixes has actually been approved – the process has begun and they will not be in use until mid-2013.
“Today we’re announcing who asked for what, not what the new suffixes will actually be,” ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said at a press conference in London on Wednesday.
Those candidates whose applications are approved will have to pay ICANN 185,000 dollars for the creation of a new domain name, then purchase a 10-year subscription at 25,000 dollars a year.
Moreover, they have had to prove that they have the financial ability to manage the necessary infrastructure – in particular the servers that would host the new sites on the requested domain names.
The heavy costs prevent “cybersquatters” – those who purchase internet addresses on the cheap and re-sell them at a high price – from applying.
They also explain why most of the candidates come from relatively wealthy countries with well-established Web infrastructures. Some 900 of the applications were from North America and 675 from Europe. US online sales giant Amazon submitted the most (77), while there were only 17 African entries.
Fortunes in the making?
The selection process has not been without tension. Some domain suffixes, like .movie, have been proposed by multiple companies and are likely to compete aggressively for complete ownership.
There are 230 suffixes that have been requested by at least two candidates, and the the most in-demand domain name is .app (as in application), with 12 requests.
In the next four or five months, those competing for the same domain name will try to negotiate on an agreement, and if they fail ICANN will organise an auction.
“It’s not a very fair system, but ICANN couldn’t find a better way to do it,” Van Gelder said. ICANN will be the only beneficiary of profits from such auctions.
Domain names can be highly lucrative, which explains the motivation of the Web giants that will likely emerge as the winners of the “competition”. Future owners of the .game suffix, for example, will be able to rent out the domain name – at a high price – to sites that want to use it.
It’s no coincidence that Internet heavyweights are flocking to the Web address liberalisation initiative.
Frank Schilling, who became a millionaire by buying and re-selling second-rate domain names that no one else had requested, is willing to put 60 million dollars on the table to get his hands on suffixes like .art, .audio, or .cars.
“It’s here and now that some of the fortunes of the future are being made,” he told CNET, a site specialized in new technologies.