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Rewiring the web

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It could be the biggest shake-up to hit the Internet in decades. ICANN, the group tasked with regulating the web, will vote Thursday on whether it should open the gates to millions of new potential web addresses.

The decision could relax the rules on so-called “top-level domains,” such as .com or .org, allowing anyone to register their own web suffix. Right now, ICANN permits very few top-level domains. The list includes 20 general ending (.gov for government or .edu or schools) and about 250 country codes (.ca for Canada or .jp for Japan). And that’s it. ICANN won’t let you use anything else.

These restrictions have not been a big deal for Americans, but tugged the tightest in Asia and the Middle East. For one, the current system only uses Roman characters; what about Arabic top-level domains or Chinese web addresses? This vote could be huge for native-language speakers and local companies.

Another consideration: Marketers are itching for more ways to create clever domain names. They’ve already mined .tv – the official top-level domain for the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu – but that was just a back-door solution. Now imagine companies directing you to www.theoffice.nbc and www.hotwings.kfc.

If the vote passes, it would not allow an “anything goes” policy. ICANN will still need to approve any suggested additions. So don’t expect too many dirty words to make the cut.


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