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From a business side, one sees why this is a big deal: competing interests scrabbling to stake out more space in the virtual world. But culturally, it also reflects the fact that the Internet is still relatively new — the equivalent of the party-line era of the telephone. What we have now doesn’t begin to look like what we’ll have in even 10 years. ICANN is in the final stages of application evaluations. New sites could appear as early as late September. “People,” said White, “are going to sit down at their browsers and see a whole new world.”
Almost as soon as the decision was announced, doubters began to question how this was all going to work. Things like trademark issues: Who can truly own the Bible, for example? The American Bible Society can — they’re priority No. 1,114 in ICANN’s randomly drawn list of submissions. In the application for .bible, the stated intention is to “Provide worldwide access to all qualified parties interested in disseminating or seeking information … about Bible issues.”
Mixing logic with confusion
Others worry that the new Web will simply require too much of our brains: If we sometimes screw up whether a site is a dot-com or a dot-org, will we truly be able to remember whether it’s a .book or a .church or a .music or a .party?
“The changes are going to add specificity and introduce a new search logic,” said Jennie-Marie Larsen, who started a consulting firm just to help businesses figure out what to do with their new domains. She hopes it will tie existing communities closer together: A few years from now, all equestrian fans of the world might unite under .horse, which has been purchased by Top Level Domain Holdings, a business created for the new market.
Many of the new domain names are not even in the Latin characters that make up the Internet today. This expansion represents the first time that characters of other languages will get a chance at domain names: The No. 1 prioritization has been drawn by the Vatican, or rather, by the Pontifical Council for Social Communication. It applied for a domain in Chinese characters that, when translated, mean “Catholic.”
Republicans have acquired .gop — but Democrats haven’t acquired .dem (it’s yet unclaimed), which Larsen finds fascinating. “It was very clear with the 2008 and 2012 elections that the Obama campaign wiped the floor with them, because of his use of social media,” she said. The new development “means the Democrats are out of the game; there’s no chance to catch up.”
This illustrates the land-grab aspect of the Internet, but it also hints at both the bigness and the smallness of online existence: an Internet so big that it takes nearly 2,000 domain names to contain it all, but one small enough that if a Chinese man visiting the Vatican fell in love with a representative from the American Bible Society while pursuing their dressage obsessions on .horse, they could announce their nuptials with a personal site on .wed.
Staff writer Katie Humphrey contributed to this report.