Dot-com's reign is over; new domains are joining the Internet

  • Updated: August 14, 2013 - 2:45 PM

Move aside, dot-com. Other domains are about to begin jockeying for position on the Internet.

There’s a land grab happening that could fundamentally alter the way the average Web user experiences the Internet.

Since the mid-1990s, the experience of visiting the Internet can be encapsulated in three letters and one punctuation mark: .com. When spoken out loud: dot-com. It’s the most common suffix on the Internet, representing more than 100 million websites, and it has become a stand-in for the Web as a whole.

Not for long.

First, some terminology. A second-level domain name is everything that comes before the dot in the Web address: Facebook. eBay. Google. These are easy to buy — if the address you want is available, you can purchase it for less than $20 with a click online. The top-level domain of a Web address is everything that comes after the dot: the .gov, the .org, the .mil. They are a foundational muscle of the Internet.

Now, ICANN, the California-headquartered Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, has offered the chance to create and buy what comes after the dot.

The expansion will include about 1,900 new Web names. Over the next few months, users will be able to visit sites at .luxury, .gay, .mom and .bible, to name just a few.

“It means that finding things is going to be harder,” said Joseph Konstan, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Minnesota. “We’re going to depend more on search engines like Google, which we do anyway, but it’s going to be even more true.”

True, Jane Doe may have more choices if she wants to buy a domain matching her name for a website. Maybe there’s a dot-something that fits nicely with her interests.

But if she wants to be easily discovered, or prevent others from besmirching her good name, should she occupy dot-com and dot-whatever and dot-something else, too?

“In the end, I don’t think we know yet if this is going to be good or bad,” Konstan said.

The largest previous expansion of top domain names occurred in 2001. That was a small endeavor: .biz, .info, .aero, etc. None of them became hugely popular.

Ask Brad White why this is happening — Is the Internet too crowded? — and he chuckles. “The premise of that question is that need dictates innovation,” said White, director of global media relations for ICANN, which was founded in 1998 in response to a proposal by the federal government’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. But need, White said, doesn’t dictate innovation. “No one demanded Facebook” before Mark Zuckerberg introduced it. “No one demanded Twitter.” Sometimes the technology is invented, and then users figure out what it’s good for.

How much is that domain in the window?

Adrienne McAdory, a Washington, D.C., military contractor, pounced at the opportunity.

All she needed was the $185,000 application fee. Which McAdory had, because, she explains, “I’m old, and I’m frugal” (she’s 42). So she worked through the lengthy application process, named her company Atgron, and, two months ago, learned she had won the rights to own a domain: .wed.

McAdory’s vision: Lots of engaged couples want their own wedding sites, but the addresses they want aren’t available because other couples are already parked on them. Through the .wed domain, couples could purchase an inexpensive address — MarkandJessica.wed — for two years, long enough to see them married. After that, the site’s cost would drastically rise, pricing the couple out, leaving the space open for a new Jessica and Mark.

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