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 â€śtop-level domains,â€ť 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 thatâ€™s it. ICANN wonâ€™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. Theyâ€™ve already mined .tv â€“ the official top-level domain for the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu â€“ 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 â€śanything goesâ€ť policy. ICANN will still need to approve any suggested additions. So donâ€™t expect too many dirty words to make the cut.
But there might be a .xxx domain. Advocates have been fighting for such a designation for years as a simple solution for alerting users and keeping children out of adult material. ICANN has continually turned them down, saying that it doesnâ€™t want to become a content regulator. But this new system would be â€śopen to everyone,â€ť ICANN chief Paul Twomey told BBC News.
"The impact of this will be different in different parts of the world. But it will allow groups, communities, and business to express their identities online,â€ť he said in the interview. â€śLike the United States in the 19th Century, we are in the process of opening up new real estate, new land, and people will go out and claim parts of that land and use it for various reasons they have.
â€śIt's a massive increase in the geography of the real estate of the Internet."
What do you think? Would you visit www.innovation.csm?
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