The internet regulator, ICANN, has given the thumbs up to a massive overhaul of domain names, a move that may dramatically change the way people surf the internet. The agency voted unanimously to relax its stance on top-level domain names, throwing the floodgates open for a near infinite number of new addresses, many likely to be centred around your favourite internet activities: .news, .shopping, .email or .copyrightinfringement
At the moment, there are 21 generic top-level domains (e.g. .com and .net), and 249 country-code top-level domains, (.uk and .fr) so this is a very radical step. “[The change]will make a big difference in how the Internet looks and works,” ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush told press members at a news conference yesterday.
An important part of the move is to open up the system to support other alphabets – for a large proportion of the earth’s population, the Roman script just doesn’t mean a hell of a lot so this decision will help the internet to continue to evolve and reach more people.
However, the move is likely to raise a great number of eyebrows over the months and years ahead. Although setting up a new top-level domain is a costly business – something in “the low six figure dollar amounts” – each new one that is opened up puts new pressures on businesses who jealously guard their brand names to protect themselves and their customers from fraudsters and net squatters. Attempting to keep a major brand in every domain is already a serious financial undertaking and with this move, the cost will increase exponentially.
Usability is also a factor. The .com domain has been around for over 20 years and is very widely recognised as the suffix that completes any web address. Or if it’s not .com, then you look for .co.uk, or .org, or .net or whatever. When more and more .nike and .tesco addresses enter the mix, I expect I’ll spend a long time subconsciously wanting to stick a .com on the end of everything and treating those that don’t with the suspicion I normally reserve for .hk sites.
At the end of the day too, no matter how much the domain pool is watered down, there will still be a notion of the ‘best’ websites to have. The more wildly named and cheaper locales are still going to provide a hot bed of phishing and fraudulent websites, becoming bad net neighbourhoods that bigger companies will likely try to avoid.
On the other hand, for developing nations whose exposure to the internet so far has been minimal, a wider spread of domain names may help make the transition easier. But then, do we really need to worry explicit web addresses anymore?
I’m almost certain I could work a normal day, in which I tend to access hundreds of different webpages, without even touching the address bar.
Internet advertising and linking takes you straight to sites you are interesting. The effectiveness of search engines and search bars integrated directly into browsers now pretty much eliminates the need to laboriously type in full addresses too.
I actually find myself typing ‘Play’ into a search bar now instead of bothering with the .com part.
If you manage your bookmarks and RSS feeds well, then the need is further reduced. Browsers now even help you stay clear of unsafe sites too.
Net browsing devices are getting smaller and considerably more popular. In the future a large amount, if not a majority of webaccess will be using such devices, and though advances in manufacturing and touchscreen technology are making interface easier, circumventing manual address entry is a better solution.
Perhaps then this whole move will become redundant before it even gets off the ground properly.
ICANN has spent about $10 million to study new domain names and expects to spend another $10 million to implement the plan. This money will be recovered from selling on the domains to applicants. Don’t expect an overnight transformation of the internet, but with time the process will get a lot cheaper and as that happens, change will begin to accelerate.