Back in 2000, I wrote a NewsBreak that considered the first addition by the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) of new generic top level domain names (gTLDs). TLDs are divided into two basic types: generic top level domains (gTLD) and country code TLDs (ccTLD). The original set of gTLDs comprised .com, .edu, .net, .org, .gov, .mil, and later .int. ccTLDs end in the (usually) ISO 3166 standard two-letter abbreviation for countries or regions, for example .fr for France, .za for South Africa, and .us for the United States. The ccTLDs are generally managed by trustees designated by the indicated country. Many have fairly stringent rules concerning who may request a domain name to include any given ccTLD—and that includes content and nationality. The French (.fr) for example, require holders of .fr URLs to be French and to include French content. Others are what might be termed ccTLDs of convenience. Perhaps the one ccTLD with the least national content is .tv for Tuvalu. Tuvalu has licensed its ccTLD and any number of television related companies employ the ccTLD.
ICANN has since followed this first wave of new gTLDs with a set of gTLDs and sponsored TLDs (sTLD) in 2004. sTLDs can be considered a subset of gTLDs, with a caveat. These are thematic, are owned and managed by an agency, and are limited to specified range of actors. The sTLD .museum, for example, can only be acquired by museums and museum-related entities. There is a second subset of gTLDs, the geographic gTLDs, restricted thus far to .cat (Catalan language related) and .asia. In 2008, ICANN adopted recommendations to facilitate new gTLDs, to include non-roman characters. In 2011, ICANN authorized the use of sTLD .xxx for adult content. The decision in 2011 came after a decade of opposition to the “explicit” domain.
ICANN is again broadening opportunities to create new gTLDs to include sTLDs. In June 2011, ICANN announced a policy to liberalize the process for creation of new gTLDs. For information on the process, see ICANN’s “New Generic Top Level Domains Fact Sheet.”
As one might imagine, there is both enthusiasm for expanding the gTLD and a renewed concern. The enthusiasm results from recognition that an expanded, perhaps an unlimited number of gTLDs creates a broad new range of potential URLs. The renewed concern also results from recognition that an expanded, perhaps an unlimited number of gTLDs creates a broad new range of potential URLs. The potential exists for copyright, trademark, and service mark infringements. Companies seeking to protect trademarks and service marks might find it necessary to register a far greater range of new domains.
All that said, is it time for libraries and library related entities to consider an sTLD? In 2001, there was some discussion in library-land to the creation of a .lib or .bib gTLD (see e.g., Koehler 2001). Given the evolution of TLD syntax, a .library gTLD might also work. Who—or rather what organization—might manage it? As the ICANN Factsheet makes clear, the application then ownership process is not an inexpensive one. Major library associations come to mind—perhaps the American Library Association (ALA) or broader still the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). Libraries, library vendors, and other library related entities might consider acquiring URLs, domain names that end in .lib, .bib, or .library. Does it make sense?
At the June 2011 meeting of the ALA in New Orleans, I asked a number of attendees, librarians all, what they thought of the idea. Some thought it was silly. Most libraries, they pointed out, were constrained either by budget or institutional considerations from straying from more than one URL. More than one URL might be confusing. Others, on the other hand, see the idea as a branding opportunity. If sTLDs become truly useful as a means of identifying, of sorting, of classifying, of indexing then libraries should take the lead. Because there are libraries everywhere, I would prefer an international body manage the sTLD. Perhaps it is indeed time to engage the idea and its management.
ICANN, “New Generic Top Level Domains Fact Sheet” http://www.icann.org/en/topics/new-gtlds/factsheet-new-gtld-program-14apr11-en.pdf
Wallace Koehler, "New Domain Names Have Arrived," Information Today NewsBreak, Nov. 27, 2000. http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17701
Wallace Koehler, "Dot-Lib for Libraries—Can It Happen? Ask ICANN" Searcher 9, 4, April 2001: 66-7.