Internet body throws open domain names
Any word, in any characters, can be used in biggest internet shake-up ever.
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2011 18:02

Good.food, learnto.salsa, glossy.lipstick, apple, orange, toyota -- people and companies will be able to set up a website with almost any address by the end of next year if they have a legitimate claim to the domain name and can pay a hefty fee.

In what is being described as a game-changing development in the cyberworld, the global body that oversees the internet has approved the creation of website addresses ending in corporate names.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposal at a meeting in Singapore on Monday, despite fears the shift would cause some confusion and favour large companies.

"It's really going to be a challenge to the .coms of this world which have really had monopoly on domain names to this point," James Trengrove, a spokesperson for ICANN, told Al Jazeera.

"This is the biggest change to domain names since the creation of dotcom 26 years ago," Theo Hnarakis, chief executive of Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services, a California-based company that provides online branding advice, said.

Under the changes, businesses will no longer be restricted to a handful of generic top level domains (gTLDs) that include .com, .net and .org when they apply to register a website address.

The new naming system will allow for more personalised, branded domains, opening the way for corporations, institutions and governments to create and control their own domain names.

Apple, for instance, could swap apple.com for .apple, while cities like London could use .london to expand their online presence.

Al Gore, the former presidential candidate, has already expressed interest in the .eco domain, Al Jazeera learned, which he could use to promote his work as an environmental activist.

Significantly, domain names will not be restricted to the Latin alphabet. Domain names can be created in Arabic, Chinese and Cyrillic.

ICANN is a non-profit body that manages the Domain Name System and Internet Protocol addresses that form the technical backbone of the web.

At a meeting this week in Singapore, the board voted 13-1 in favour of the change, which was first proposed in 2005, with two members abstaining.

George Sadowsky, the lone board member who voted against the move, said "I believe that it is not ICANN's job to influence the choice of winners and losers in such competitions, and that is implicitly what we will be doing."

The process has taken six years of negotiations, and not everyone is happy at the decision to transform domain conventions.

Trengrove said that the delay had been for political, as well as technical, reasons.

While some companies expressed excitement over the possibilities, others have longstanding reservations about the implications for their copyrights.

"There's been a lot of concern from governments and companies about trademark protection," he explained.

For these reasons, the application process will be based on an evaluation process that gives deference to communities, where applicable. Brand protection will be taken into account, and a $185,000 fee per application means any attempt to purchase a domain will have to be based on a solid foundation.

"Who's going to get .paris? Paris, France, or Paris, Texas?" he said.

Applications for the new web suffixes will open on January 12 next year and close 90 days later.

Before the competition is open, ICANN will launch a global awareness campaign to give all parties time to prepare for the selection process.

Additional reporting by Yasmine Ryan

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