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2011 July 25 - 12:00 am

TECHNOLOGY TODAY: World of Website Addresses Poised for Dramatic Expansion

The geeky business of website addresses just got a lot more geeky, and a lot more interesting.

In June the organization responsible for the .com, .org, .edu, and other extensions of Web “domain names” approved a plan to introduce what could amount to hundreds or even thousands of other extensions over the next two years. The plan by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was prompted primarily by the requests from governments around the world that wanted top-level domains to reflect their language and their particular alphabet, including Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Arabic and Cyrillic.

The changes, however, will affect everyone who visits websites.

Along with responding to the wishes of governments, the ending of limitations in domain name extensions provides new options for companies, other organizations and even well-heeled individuals.

Pepsi, as one example, would be able to register the .pepsi extension. New York City would be able to register .nyc. Others would be able to register .music, .sports, or whatever else they think they can monetize or otherwise want.

The entry barrier will be high. The initial cost includes the ICANN application fee of $185,000, and there are subsequent annual charges of $25,000.

Among the thorny issues being worked on by ICANN is dealing with new domain name extensions that individual governments find objectionable,  including pornographic terms and hate speech in other languages that might not be apparent by the party registering it.

Currently, .com’s rule the roost, and this isn’t likely to change any time soon. Of the 210 million domain names that had been registered by May 2011, .com names accounted for more than 90 million, according to Verisign, an Internet infrastructure company. In distant second place was .net, at 13 million.

In all, 22 generic top-level domain extensions are now in existence. Unrestricted extensions, available to anyone, include .com, .net, .org, and .info. Other top-level domains, with specific requirements, include .edu, .gov, .int, .mil, .biz, .name, and .pro. There are many more country extensions, such as .ca for Canada and .de for Germany.

Domain names are case-insensitive, so you don’t need to capitalize even if you see a name that includes capital letters. Some websites include capital letters to avoid misinterpretation or embarrassment, such as WhoRepresents.com, a database of celebrities and agents. The name without the capitals reads completely differently.

Because of various technical issues involved with how any given domain name was registered and how your particular Web browser works, sometimes you have to type www before the domain name, though in most cases these days you don’t.

The same kinds of turf battles and bidding wars are expected with the new domain extensions has happened with generic .com domain names. Among the highest prices paid were $7.5 million for business.com in 1999, $5.1 million for toys.com in 2009, $3.0 million for candy.com in 2009, $2.9 million for wine.com in 1999, and $2.2 million for autos.com in 1999.

Many companies are expected to register their company’s name as an extension for defensive purposes, even without having a clear plan yet about what to do with it. On the other hand, trademark owners will receive the same kind of protection from ICANN that they have now, which prevents others from using their trade name in a Web site address.

Still, the new system is controversial, says Janet Satterthwaite, a trademark and domain name attorney at the law firm Venable in Washington, D.C. “The system is certain to create major headaches for companies because of the need for increased monitoring of all the new domains and the real potential for cybersquatting and creation of bogus addresses.”

Cybersquatters register domain names in hope of forcing a company or individual to buy it from them (at a huge profit), to gain online advertising revenue resulting from Web surfers mistakenly going to a fake site instead of a genuine one, and even as a “phishing” tool to trick surfers into revealing credit card and other personal financial information in order to steal from them.

The new system is controversial for Web users as well. Because the new domain extensions will likely result in many new websites addresses, it will likely be more difficult to remember specific ones. The situation is analogous to having to remember and punch in area codes with local phone numbers, though Web users will be aided by their browser’s favorites or bookmarks feature as well as by being able to find a Web address fairly easily through a Web search.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.

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