Top Level Domains and You
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has recently stated that they will begin accepting applications for new generic top level domains in the first quarter of 2010. So what does that mean?
First, let's look at domain structure.
is a full domain in which we notice three distinct portions, each separated by a period (dot). The www is the third-level domain, the abrightconcept is the second-level domain, and the com is the first level-domain, or Top Level Domain (TLD).
www (3rd level) .abrightconcept (2nd level) .com (top level)
Each domain acts as part of an address that is ultimately converted to an IP Address that a server uses to locate the webpage. We mostly use www as our highest level domain, and often as the third, though it may not always be the third and it may not always be our highest level. Typically, the domains we buy and exert the most influence over are the 2nd level domains. But that might be about to change.
Let's back up a second and put on our Internet history goggles. What we know as the modern Internet arose out of the United States government's Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA, which is now know as DARPA, for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). In an effort to link up distant university computers for the purpose of sending and receiving messages and sharing information, ARPA started a project known as ARPANET for Advanced Research Project Agency Network, and was begun in the 1960's. A surprise drill initiated by Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser in 1977 led to a series of blunders that highlighted many weaknesses in United States national security, not the least of which was the lack of a communications and information network. As a result, ARPANET was tapped to become such a network, and with the addition of various protocols, eventually became the modern Internet (see Michio Kaku's Visions, pages 45 – 47).
The ICANN organization was then created by the United States government for the purpose of overseeing and managing the Domain Name System (DNS). In the early days of the DNS, our familiar TLDs were created: .com, .edu, .gov, .int, .mil, .net, and .org. They are known as generic TLDs or gTLDs. Eventually the country code TLDs were also created (ccTLDs) as well as some minor additions to the gTLDs. It should also be noted that one can see an artifact of the origins of the Internet if one looks to the special infrastructure TLD, .arpa, which is restricted for use regarding the technical aspects of the Internet (we know why they named it .arpa!).
Now, what is the significance of the opening up of the gTLDs to consumers? The commercial aspects to the Internet continue to evolve. The .com TLD, which is short for commercial, was intended to separate commercial websites operating on the Internet. It has now become the standard and most recognizable TLD. As many of the most recognizable names for second level domains are taken using the .com TLD, the marketplace for those domains is becoming crowded and expensive. To help alleviate the pressure, ICANN has created some additions to the gTLDs such as .mobi, .travel, .info, .name, .museum, and .aero. However, none of them have reached any mainstream usage. It could be that .com is simply too synonymous with the Internet to be displaced. It could be that the marketplace for good domains on the .com TLD has not yet been saturated. In any case, ICANN has decided that they can't predict the market for TLDs, and instead, is letting the consumer decide!
Imagine the following:
The possibilities are endless. Initial pricing for new gTLDs will be very expensive, and big businesses and organizations will get the first chance with them so that they have an opportunity to protect their trademarks. The registration process is likely to be extremely complex with years spent vetting the applications and possibilities. But eventually, when all the giants have had their fill and the new gTLDs begin landing on the Internet, the little people like you and I will get a chance, and there will be plenty of names left. What's truly exciting is the possibility that owning one's own gTLD may give one ownership of the trillions and trillions of combinations of second level domains that come with it. If so, one may be able to license those domains in much the same way that we now license our .coms and renew them on a yearly basis. The market for domain names could explode.
Or not. Maybe nothing will soon supplant the popularity of .com and the made-to-order gTLDs may whimper and dry up as business opportunities. But I'm betting on the consumer. I'm betting that given unlimited choices and imagination, people will find clever ways to expand the naming conventions we use on the Internet.
I also believe that an open gTLD policy is the harbinger of grand expansions to the Internet. Our children and grandchildren may look on these as the early days of the information age, small and constricted, much the same way we look on the early days of ARPANET. There may be a time when each person owns a piece of Internet real estate, and our informational addresses become more important than the physical ones we now return to after a day at the office. We may be able to rummage through the web as we now browse a shopping mall, going to .games to buy our fun, .clothes to browse our outfits, .accountants to help file our taxes and .songs to hear our musicians. Maybe I'll see you there.
Check out http://www.icann.org for more information on gTLDs and the new program.