Is this a good thing?
On Thursday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), meeting in Paris, voted unanimously to open up the existing regime on top level domains (TLDs), currently limited to 21 designations such as .com, .info, .net and .org, and individual countries such as .uk.
Click here for the announcement and a few FAQs.
Companies will now be able to turn brands into web addresses, and individuals will be able to use their own names. The new system will be introduced during 2009, with the first websites possibly coming online in the final quarter.
The fee for setting up a brand name domain “will be in that the low six figure dollar amounts,” said ICANN President and CEO Paul Twomey. ICANN needed to recover nearly $10 million spent already, he explained, and the final cost would be about double that.
The process could obviously become mighty expensive for companies wishing to protect a wide range of product names, but the reasoning appears to be that these would be companies blessed with deep pockets anyway.
Not to mention battalions of lawyers, who have played a major role in ICANN’s costly deliberations and are the big winners. The most obvious losers are domain name speculators who are sitting on the most potentially valuable .com domains, whose holdings are likely to be devalued.
ICANN will set up an arbitration mechanism to deal with domain disputes (expect some lively ones over domain designations like .news or .sport), but if arbitration fails the disputed domain will go to the highest bidder. “We’re certainly not setting this up for profit,” protested Twomey.
ICANN also approved a proposal to globalise the regime by abolishing the current limit of 37 Roman characters. This is a long overdue reform that is expected to result in millions of new domain names based on any string of letters, in any script.
From a business perspective, there are two ways of looking at this. On one hand, it massively broadens the ways in which individuals and companies can manifest themselves online. However, it also has the potential to be a free-for-all, with little control over who owns what.
There’s no doubt that opportunities are being created by this ruling, but if ICANN and the market in general aren’t careful, the sudden multiplying of domain designations could cause sufficient confusion among web users as to negate any positives that come from it.