Domain names: Internet takes big step toward end of .com era
The group that regulates domain names is now accepting applications for new Internet suffixes beyond .com and its cousins. The new domain names could be operational by the end of 2012.
Thursday marks the opening bell for anyone who wants a website ending with something other than .com, .edu, or one of the other 20 familiar Internet suffixes.
The International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit in charge ofÂ online registry,Â plans to throw open the doors to hundreds, potentially thousands of new suffixes, called top-level domain names.Â
In this firstÂ expansionÂ round, which runs through April 12,Â ICANN will process some 500 applications to register new names.Â ItÂ projects that the first of the new domain names could be up and running by the end of 2012.
From a legal standpoint, there will be challenges to launching the new system, saysÂ trademark attorney Erik Pelton.Â â€śWho is entitled to .delta? Delta airlines or Delta faucet?â€ť he says.
But perhaps the bigger concern to businesses is that cybersquatters might register online addresses that intentionally mislead surfers.Â
â€śAlready, large and small trademark owners struggle to prevent cybersquatting and other malicious uses of their trademarks in connection with third-party domain-name registrations,â€ť saysÂ Trevor Schmidt, an intellectual property attorney with Moore & Van Allen,Â via e-mail
This could represent an exponential increase costs associated with protecting a famous brand, he notes. Although ICANN has adopted a number of protections for trademark owners, â€śnone of these protections are without cost,â€ť he says.
A lawsuitÂ challengingÂ ICANNâ€™s handling of the .XXX domain, for instance, highlights the problems many foresee with this expansion. Eight in 10 applicants who have preregistered for .XXXÂ namesÂ are not associated with the adult-entertainment industry, notes Jean Nogues,Â a lawyer with the case, citing data from EasySpace, which tracks this data.
The companies, he says, â€śare forced to do this to protect themselves.â€ť
Applicants for the top domain names must pony up $185,000, as well as payÂ monthly and annual fees. They must also show they can handle the administrationÂ involved with servicingÂ their own domain name.Â This may prevent the entry of frivolous or maliciousÂ domain owners.
But expanding the universe of domain names could also cause Internet confusion even without malicious intent, some say.Â
â€śThe expansion will further clutter the Internet with unused or underused web pages and make it more difficult to identify legitimate webpages,â€ť says Mr. Schmidt ofÂ Moore & Van Allen.Â
But others say the change might not have much impact since most websites will still want to gravitate toward .com.Â
"Many people will actually try typing in the name of a product or brand with .com before even searching for it on a search engine," saysÂ Alex Halavais, associate professor of communications at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., author of â€śSearch Engine Societyâ€ť and president of the Association of Internet Researchers.
Adding domain names, he says,Â "is unlikely to change that.â€ť
Moreover, domain names matter less in the Facebook era, says Elisa Cooper of Mark Monitor, whichÂ specializes in online brand protection.
â€śWhat we are seeing now is that increasingly businesses are relying less and less on their websites,â€ť she says. â€śInstead they are putting their FacebookÂ pages on the cereal boxes and soda cans.â€ť
Itâ€™s not clear whether the next generation is paying all that much attention to domain names, she adds. â€śThey are muchÂ more reliant on search results and Facebook and other social media activity.â€ť
[Editor's note: The original version of this article misspelled Jean Nogues' name.]