Contest for new domain name endings heats up | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 20.06.2012
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Contest for new domain name endings heats up

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers says there have been 1,930 applications for new generic Top Level Domains. The road ahead is littered with disputes.

For the first time, brands like Adidas and Apple have been able to apply for their own Top Level Domains (gTLDs) - or even secure generic "strings" like .sports and .music.

After six years of debate, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has embarked on an ambitious plan to liberalize Internet addresses.

By expanding beyond the existing, small group of top level domains - such as .com, .org and .net - ICANN says it wants to drive competition and innovation on the Internet.

At a press conference in London, ICANN chief executive Rod Beckstrom, revealed there had been 1,930 applications for new gTLDs.

"This is an historic day for the Internet and the two billion people around the world that depend on it," Beckstrom said.

More than half of the applications have come from North America, home to Internet giants like Google and Amazon - although Amazon, the retailer, lodged its applications through its Luxemburg office.

Greater online visibility

Google's chief Internet evangelist, Vint Cerf, says the move is long overdue.

Cerf once wrote in a blog that "despite the great opportunities the Web has enabled for people around the world, there is still a lingering question about the diversity of the domain space."

Google logo

Google is among the big Web players seeking domain names

Marketers say one of the main benefits for brands will be increased online visibility. Nikon, for instance, could ditch nikon.com in favor of a much simpler .nikon gTLD, and Google could use movies.youtube.

Microsoft has applied to cover several of its brands, including hotmail, skydrive and skype, while software security vendor, Symantec, has applied for generic gTLDs such as .protection and .antivirus.

Around 70 applications have come from Germany for gTLDs like .gmbh (the German equivalent of the acronym for a limited liability company), .taxi, .bayern, .berlin, and .lidl for the supermarket chain.

Stuart Durham, a director at Melbourne IT, which sells domain name registration and Web hosting services, says another benefit is "security and trust."

"If you're a bank or luxury goods producer, for instance, you could create your own 'safe haven' online," Durham told DW. "You could have ultimate control of everything under your domain name."

As well as personalizing an Internet presence and the ability to replicate key search words, Durham says the new gTLDs could improve navigation or even search engine performance.

Domain disputes

Domains like .home and .free are among those that have attracted several applicants. ICANN is encouraging the different parties to work together and even partner on domains, but it will auction those that continue to be contested.

In Europe, for instance, the Guardian Media Group is reported to have applied for five gTLDs, including .guardian. But it is expected to face competition from the US-based Guardian Life Insurance company, which owns guardian.com worldwide.

The Swiss government and the airline, Swissair, are already butting heads over the rights to .swiss.

'Defensive registration'

The first new gTLDs are expected to come online early next year.

ICANN announces new top-level domian names

ICANN chief Rod Beckstrom says the internet is about to change

ICANN has received competing applications for more than 230 domain names and more than a 100 for names with non-Latin alphabets. One of the original reasons behind the liberalization drive was to expand the Internet beyond the Latin alphabet.

But the move to expand the Internet's real estate has also drawn criticism.

"It will force companies to make defensive registrations, with much money involved," said Thomas Hoeren, a professor of media law at the University of Münster.

Companies, organizations and individuals are required to pay $185,000 per application, plus running costs. For many, it is more than they can afford.

But Hoeren says some will have no choice.

"The problem for many companies is that if they don't register names, others will," he told DW.

The high cost is also seen as a possible reason why so few applications have come from African countries. Of the 1,930 applications, only 17 are African.

Privatized Internet

While some fear the Internet is being privatized, and that the new gTLDs will give powerful players more control over our experience on the Internet, others, like Rob Meldrum, are less concerned.

"There is very little reliance on anyone knowing the exact URL of a website anymore," said Meldrum, an innovation director at Weapon7, in an e-mail to DW.

"Most browsers now have Google search embedded, and it is far easier for a consumer to type in a brand name than to try and remember an exact URL. I'd rather Google 'Heinz' than remember the URL www.heinz.tomatoketchup," said Meldrum.

ICANN's drive to liberalize gTLDs is a key test for the non-profit organization. Its authority continues to be challenged by emerging nations. China, Brazil and Russia are among those pushing for a United Nations controlled body to take over, giving governments more control.

Author: John Blau
Editor: Zulfikar Abbany

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