Will the Internet’s .coke just be like New Coke?

So the big news of the week is that after years of debate, the folks at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers pretty much threw open the doors to any Internet extension in a Web address. 

That means that all the .com and .gov sites will soon be joined by, most likely, .coke, .google, .apple and so on.

The folks at ICANN were pretty darn happy with their decision. "ICANN has opened the Internet's naming system to unleash the global human imagination,” Rod Beckstrom, the group’s president and CEO, said in announcing the plan June 20. “Today's decision respects the rights of groups to create new Top Level Domains in any language or script. We hope this allows the domain name system to better serve all of mankind."

Related coverage:

ICANN approves plan to add brand-name domains

And why shouldn’t they be happy? Each application for one of those new generic Top Level Domains, or gTLDs, will cost $185,000. So we won’t be seeing any .momandpophardware domains anytime soon.

Even large cities will have trouble justifying spending that kind of money just to purchase .Miami or .Chicago. And given these tough economic times, I doubt even government agencies that do a lot of public outreach will bite. Do we really need NASA.nasa when we have NASA.gov? The Obama administration is trying to eliminate duplication in government websites, not create more of them.

ICANN says it already has a hundred applicants, though. It must be nice to be able to raise $18.5 million without lifting a finger. Well actually, board members had to raise their hands to vote at their Singapore meeting, so I suppose they at least had to do that.

What does this mean for the overall Internet? Normally I would say something both good and bad, but in this case I would say more accurately that it’s both good and indifferent.

The good thing is that people all around the world can now take ownership of their own little corner of the Internet, so long as they can afford to grab their slice of the pie — and, according to ICANN’s rules, show that they have the technical and operational abilities to run the domain.

(In case you’re wondering, ICANN has built in some protections against the kind of domain-squatting that took place in the early days of the Web. Its gTLD Applicant Guidebook points out that applicants “are encouraged to identify possible regional, cultural, property interests, or other sensitivities regarding TLD strings and their uses,” and allows for third parties to file objections if they have a good reason. So it’s unlikely that someone might invest $185,000 in, say, buying .windows in hopes of selling it to Microsoft at a profit, or that PepsiCo might buy .coke just to start a corporate slap fight. Of course, these protections might be triggered with obvious, high-profile names, but who knows might happen with under-the-radar, up-and-coming properties.)

The new rules allow for domains to be written in Chinese, Japanese, Cyrillic, Arabic and dozens of other scripts. Some characters used in the new domains probably couldn’t be created on a standard English keyboard. But that’s fine. I’ve never felt that any one person, country or group should own the Internet. In fact, I question why we give ICANN so much authority, but that is a debate for another time.

On the indifference side of the coin, I don’t think very much will change. Sure, Coca-Cola will purchase .coke and Apple will buy .apple. They will more or less be forced to do it. But I doubt that they will put a huge marketing effort behind it since they already have great sites at their .com domain that everyone is already used to visiting.

Why force people to remember words in front and behind the dot? Then again, I can see some innovative companies like Facebook giving all of their users .facebook domain names tied to their user names, though very few companies will be in a unique position to do something like that.

The real winners in this may very well be search engines, because people may need to use them even more to find the content they are looking for if this elaborate new naming system catches on.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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