After a couple of years and a few false starts, the number of generic top-level domains (gTLD) has just grown by seven. Together with the familiar .com, .net, .org, .edu, .gov, .mil, and the rare .int, we will begin to see .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced these seven new gTLDs in mid-November. ICANN is the international nongovernmental organization chartered by the U.S. Department of Commerce to regulate numbers and names on the Internet. ICANN's responsibilities include the regulation of Internet domain names, IP address numbers, and protocol parameter and port numbers. ICANN also oversees the root-server system, described sometimes as managing "who owns the dot."
Internet registrars proposed the new gTLDs as well as many others that weren't selected in the first round. Each of the successful registrars will benefit because it will sell the domain name, as well as the second-level domain name (2LD), within the gTLD it proposed. (For example, in ICANN's URL http://www.icann.org, the gTLD is .org and the 2LD is .icann.) ICANN is now negotiating with the registrars, and, following approval by the ICANN board, those recommendations will be forwarded to the U.S. Department of Commerce for final implementation.
The new gTLDs can be classed into three groups: .biz and .info are for general purpose; .name is for individuals; and .aero, .coop, .museum, and .pro are reserved for specific interests. All but .museum will help relieve name pressure and competition in the .com domain. The .museum gTLD will mainly affect the .org domain, since most not-for-profit museums are registered there.
ICANN anticipates that its approval process should be completed by the end of December. Then sometime next year we should expect to see some or all of these domain names on the Web.
After the implementation, the gTLDs will be used for the following purposes:
- .aero—Aviation-related businesses
- .biz—General business and to augment, replace, and compete with .com
- .coop—Co-ops or cooperative businesses as defined by the proposing registrar
- .info—Businesses in the information industry
- .name—Personal names, with the most likely application being "myhomepage.name"
- .pro—Professionals, such as accountants, attorneys, dentists, and physicians
Why Do We Need Them?
One reason the gTLDs were added is due to the limited name potential of URLs. In theory, the potential combination of letters, numbers, and characters that make up a URL exceeds the number of stars in the sky. In practice, and according to the Domain Name Handbook, all the good ones are taken. Good ones are trademarks or names. Good ones carry meaning.
Many of us want memorable URLs that carry some kind of message. We also want to be able to use the same characters to convey different messages. Consider, for example, that until recently the 2LD .delta was not owned by Delta Airlines. In fact, "delta" is not only a Greek letter and one-third of a sorority name, it's also part of the name of many businesses. Dr. Delta can now register as delta.pro, Delta Dawn might register as delta.name, and the Mississippi Delta Museum could take delta.museum. Had the new domain names come along earlier, maybe Delta Airlines would not have wanted delta.com, but rather delta.aero.
Another reason why we need the additional domains is for better classification value. I have argued in the pages of Searcher that the value of gTLD classification has been eroded. This has happened because many erstwhile dot-coms have been registering their commercial domain names on noncommercial gTLDs. They have registered on the .org and .net gTLDs, because all too frequently mnemonic or names have already been taken on the .com domain or because they want to further protect trademarks or service marks. In the February 1998 issue of Searcher, Logan Barnett and I wrote that TLDs and certain 2LDs could be used to facilitate the Web search process. As more dot-coms moved to other domain space, the classification quality of those gTLDs (as only information professionals could understand) evaporated. These seven new gTLDs give rise to a hope that their classification value may be at least partially restored.
The old and new gTLDs are not alone in the world of top-level domains. There are also the country code domains (ccTLDs). These are represented by the ISO 3166 two-letter codes for countries and regions (e.g., .ar for Argentina, .cn for China, .fr for France, .ru for Russia, .ug for Uganda, etc.). Two additional root registrars and individual country registrars manage these. In most cases, in order to acquire a URL carrying a ccTLD, one must be a resident of that country. But this isn't universally the case, and there are a growing, but small number, of ccTLD registrars—TLDs of convenience—that will accept registrations from anywhere.
Many ccTLDs carry a 2LD code that designates the "functional" purpose of the Web site. These often mimic the gTLD. For example, a commercial site in the U.K. carries co.uk, an organizational site in Japan has or.jp, and a government site in Mexico uses gob.mx. Is it possible that some ccTLDs will add something like the seven new gTLDs as 2LDs? Could be.
One consequence of the new gTLDs will be the emergence of domain-name prospectors. One of the major controversies with domain names has been the question of trademark and copyright against the rights associated with the first registrant. A number of these people register domain names hoping to profit by subsequently selling them to third parties. Precedents set by ICANN, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and various courts seem to indicate that prior trademark or copyright is not absolute in determining who should own a domain name. A number of domain names have, as a consequence, been transferred from one holder to another.
In order to retain ownership, some reasonable and logical association between the name and the owner must be demonstrated. Will "trademarked" names on the new domains be challenged? If these associated trademarks are challenged and the challenges are upheld, the value that the new gTLDs bring to expanding name space will be limited.
This new set of names will also lead to the implementation of even more new names. In this most recent round, ICANN rejected several proposed TLDs, among them .iii and .kids. Others (.xxx, .gay, .k12, .fin, .health, etc.) have at times been suggested. ICANN and its predecessor also proposed, but never implemented, a similar set of TLDs. We can probably expect to see many more specialized classifications offered. And we can probably expect that the list of gTLDs will, in fact, grow over time.