NEW YORK — If Google has its way, people won't need "Google.com" to do searches. They can simply go to ".Google."
New York City wants Internet addresses ending in ".nyc," while several companies and groups are looking to create ".doctor," ".music" and ".bank." Google Inc. is also seeking ".YouTube" and ".lol" — the digital shorthand for "laugh out loud." Others are looking to attract non-English speakers with suffixes in a variety of languages.
Some 2,000 proposals have been submitted as part of the largest expansion of the Internet address system since its creation in the 1980s. These suffixes would rival ".com" and about 300 others now in use. Companies would be able to create separate websites and separate addresses for each of their products and brands, for instance, even as they keep their existing ".com" name. One day, you might go to "comedy.YouTube" rather than "YouTube.com/comedy."
The organization behind the expansion, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, will announce a full list and other details in London on Wednesday.
It'll take at least a year or two, however, for the first of these new suffixes to win approval and appear in use.
Some of them never will if they are found to violate trademarks or are deemed offensive. Others will be delayed as competing bidders quarrel for easy-to-remember words such as ".web." When multiple applications seek the same suffix, ICANN will encourage parties to work out an agreement. ICANN will hold an auction if the competing bidders fail to reach a compromise.
The expansion, already several years in the works, had been delayed by more than a month this spring because of technical glitches with the application system.
From a technical standpoint, the names let Internet-connected computers know where to send email and locate websites. But they've come to mean much more. Amazon.com Inc., for instance, has built its brand around the domain name.
Alex Stamos, whose Artemis Internet company is bidding for ".secure," said the expansion will "create much more specific neighborhoods with specific focus and goals."
Stamos envisions ".secure" as a neighborhood for banks, medical professionals, payroll providers and others needing to establish consumer trust. Websites that adopt ".secure" instead of ".com" in their names would go through additional screening and be required to follow certain security practices such as encryption of all Web traffic.
The suffixes are restricted to the richest companies and groups, who paid $185,000 (€147,480)per proposal. If approved, each suffix would cost at least $25,000 a year to maintain, with a 10-year commitment required. By comparison, a personal address with a common suffix such as ".com" usually costs less than $10 a year.
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ICANN has received at least $350 million in applications fees, which will pay for the organization's costs setting up the system, reviewing applications and making sure parties do what they have promised once the suffix is operational. Some of the money will be set aside to cover potential lawsuits from unsuccessful applicants and others.
Despite the startup costs, suffixes could potentially generate millions of dollars a year for winning bidders. For instance, a startup company called ICM Registry now receives some $60 a year for every ".xxx" registered. That startup now wants ".sex," ".porn" and ".adult."
Stamos said he expects to charge thousands of dollars for a ".secure" name. The idea is to attract just those businesses that need the higher level of security.
Not all bidders will be looking to sell names under their suffixes, though. Google, for instance, may decide to keep ".Google" for its own sites, though it indicated it might open ".YouTube" for brands to create video channels. Google declined comment on specifics beyond a recent blog post.
Skeptics worry that an expansion will mean more addresses available to scams that use similar-sounding names such as "Amazom" rather than "Amazon" to trick people into giving passwords and credit card information. Others worry that new suffixes could create additional platforms for hate groups or lead to addresses ending in obscenities. ICANN spent years crafting guidelines meant to curtail nefarious activities, but critics say there aren't enough safeguards in place. Critics include a coalition of business groups worried about protecting their brands in newly created names.
There's also a question of how useful the new names will be, at least among English speakers. Alternatives to ".com" introduced over the past decade have had mixed success. These days, Internet users often find websites not by typing in the address but by using a search engine. And with mobile devices getting more popular, people are using apps to bypass Web browsers entirely.
The demand for new suffixes appears greater outside the U.S. That's because many of the ".com" names had been grabbed by Americans who got on the Internet first. In addition, suffixes had been largely limited to the 26 letters of the English alphabet until now.
"I don't think any of these will be the next dot-com," said Bhavin Turakhia, founder and CEO of Directi Group, a Dubai company that is seeking ".click," ".baby," ".insurance" and 28 others. "Dot-com had too much of a legacy to be outdone in a short period of time. But it has potential to be a very strong alternative and over time capture reasonable market share."
ICANN has already allowed two major expansions of the addressing system. In 2000, it approved seven new domains, including ".info" and ".biz." It began accepting new bids again in 2004. It added seven from that round, including ".xxx" last year. It also cleared others on an ad hoc basis, including ".eu" for the European Union and ".ps" for the Palestinian territories.
Under the new system, the application process will be streamlined and allow for up to 1,000 new suffixes a year.
How the Internet will get new domain name suffixes
On Wednesday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers will release a list of some 2,000 proposals for new Internet address suffixes. They can represent hobbies, ethnic groups, corporate brand names and more.
Expanding the number of suffixes, the ".com" part of an Internet address, has been one of ICANN's missions since its creation in 1998 to oversee domain names. ICANN had two test rounds, in 2000 and 2004, when it added ".info," ".Asia," ".travel," among others. It's now ready to expand the domain name system more broadly.
Here's how it will work:
THE APPLICATIONS: The system opened in January. Applicants had to answer 50 questions covering such things as what a proposed suffix will be used for and what kind of financial backing the company or organization has. They had until late March to begin the application and until May 30 to finish — the deadline was extended because a technical glitch kept the system offline for more than a month. Each application cost $185,000.
THE CHALLENGES: After ICANN announces on Wednesday the suffixes that have been proposed, the public will have 60 days to comment on them. That is when someone can claim a trademark violation or argue that a proposed suffix is offensive.
THE REVIEW: ICANN will review each application to make sure its financial plan is sound and that contingencies exist in case a company goes out of business. Applicants also must pass criminal background checks. If multiple applicants seek the same suffix, ICANN will encourage the parties to work out an agreement. The organization will hold an auction if they cannot. The review is expected to take at least nine months, meaning approval of the first batch won't happen until March 2013 or later. If there are challenges or other problems, ICANN believes the review could take up to 20 months.
THE LAUNCH: Once a suffix gets approved, the applicant will have to set up procedures for registering names under that suffix and computers to keep track of them. Applicants might have all that already completed in anticipation of an approval. The application pays an annual fee that starts at $25,000. The suffix gets activated and becomes available for use. All that could take days or months.
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