Whatever you think about the domain name system, it’s been pretty effective in allowing the World Wide Web to expand so rapidly over the past two decades. And for most companies, “.com” has been THE place to park your brand. But that may all change soon.

ICANN, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is the non-profit, global coordinator of the Internet’s naming system. ICANN’s global Internet regulators met today in Singapore to “finalize rules for a major expansion of ‘generic top-level domains,’ that will clear the way for new offerings like .law, .coke or .nyc. Sites with those endings are expected to start rolling out late next year.” CNN.com tells the story in Forget .com, here’s .coke:

“Today’s decision will usher in a new Internet age,” said Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of ICANN’s Board of Directors. “We have provided a platform for the next generation of creativity and inspiration.”

Now, before you get all excited and start dreaming of registering “.wordlab” or “.snark” domain names, note the “gotcha”:

Crawford thinks dot-brand sites will be a hit with major companies. In addition to marketing benefits, they could help on the security front: HSBC, for example, could tell customers that a purported HSBC site isn’t legitimate unless it ends in .hsbc. And a company like Verizon (VZ, Fortune 500) could market products at cellphones.verizon and store locations at losangeles.verizon.

But these benefits don’t come cheaply — or easily. ICANN charges at $185,000 per domain application, which Crawford says typically must include about 150 pages of policy documents.

Technical setup takes another $100,000 or so, he says, and upkeep can cost an additional $100,000 each year.

So there you have it — only “major companies” who can afford the cost and regulatory overhead will be able to buy into this, and the result will likely be more brand clutter and confusion, with new domains like .coke, .pepsi, .verizon, .hsbc flooding the Internet with millions more corporate websites. No longer would users just go to coke.com to find out — wait, why do users go there? — whatever they need to find out, but potentially there might be thousands of separate .coke sites. Any large company could basically build its own Internet now — imagine a self-contained, Chromewashed .google empire. And forget about just one “iCloud” for Apple — they could create a mega-cloud of .apple websites.

In addition to companies, non-profits, NGO’s, citizen groups, artists and any sort of non-corporate entity that can raise the funds could also create its own self-contained micro-Internet. Imagine legions of fans registering .gaga, .bieber, .kanye or .diddy domains for their fanblogs, with all that registration money going directly to the artists instead of GoDaddy. That is, if there’s anyone left who wants to have their own website, when a Facebook page is probably all they need. We’ll see.

It’s enough to make your head spin. And in the not-too-distant future, people will misplace websites and domains the way they misplace car keys. Honey, where did you park my files? Was it at cloud.apple, icloud.apple, app.apple, cloudapp.apple, cumulus-cloud.apple, docs.google, mydocs.google or vault.amazon?

Of course, there will be apps to help you remember where you put your digital life. Oh-yes-there-will-be.apps.

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