Dot Com Becomes Dot Whatever

Ten years after the “dot-com boom”, we’re about to experience the “dot-anythingyoulike” era. Despite criticisms, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers will begin taking applications for new top level domains from tomorrow.

The change is simple but dramatic: rather than having a limited number of top level domains (such as .com, .net, .org and the various country-specific codes), anyone who wants can buy up and then administer their own domain, using a range of alphabet styles.

For example, if Geeks Are Sexy readers clubbed together, we could buy up the rights to run .geek and then cash in by selling off the rights to use both and

One notable difference compared with registering individual domain names is the cost: $185,000. Depending on your level of cynicism that’s either designed to deter pranksters and get-rich-quick bandits, or to give ICANN a financial jackpot.

The move does also raise the possibility of trademark disputes on an epic scale, which explains why ICANN has apparently earmarked a third of the fee revenue for a legal defense fund. That said, the hefty cost may limit the disputes: to give a hypothetical example, there may be many local and national firms named McDonald’s that believe they have a perfect right to register that domain, but it may be that only the fast food giant can afford to do so in the first place.

Unlike sales of individual domain names, this won’t be a first-come first-served situation. Applicants must complete hundreds of pages of documents and will be assessed on how they intend to use the domain, their technical abilities, and their financial stability. Only applicants passing this approval process will be allowed to buy the domain.

It appears ICANN will run auctions where there are multiple “valid” bidders, which explains why the process will be much slower than normal domain registrations, with potential bidders given plenty of time: initial applications can be made any time up to 12 April.

One estimate is that there’ll only be around 1,000 to 1,500 applications in the initial windows, most of them being brand names that should be largely uncontentious. There are also likely to be a large number of applications by city and regional authorities for geographic terms, leaving only a few hundred initial applications for generic terms (.music, .sport) where a bidding war could ensue.

ICANN claims that it has a solid intellectual property protection process in place meaning that (unlike with the recent release of a .xxx domain), there should be no need for businesses to register a domain solely for “defensive” reasons.

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