New domain name endings set to shake up the net

dotcom image The new domains might mean that a .com suffix becomes less necessary

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The net will get a lot bigger in 2013. That's when the net's familiar domains will be joined by a slew of novel names.

The change will mean lots of new words will appear to the right of the dot where people usually expect to see .com, or .net.

Run by Icann, which oversees the net's addressing system, the scheme gives organisations that can afford the $185,000 registration fee the chance to run their own domain.

No longer will they have to search to see if a .com is available. Instead, big companies such as Microsoft, Coca Cola or Nike could run a domain based on their company name.

New territory

More than 1,900 domain name applications have been received. As well as business names, applications are in for city-based domains such as .NYC and .Berlin, industry sectors such as .cars and even web slang like .lol.

There are known to be some duplicates in the list. For instance, there are at least two applications for .africa and for .eco. However, if only 10% of the total go live next year the number of domains on the net will more than double.

"It's the biggest shake up of the domain name space ever," said Lesley Cowley, chief executive of Nominet which oversees the UK's net addresses. Nominet has applied to run the .wales/.cymru domain.

It is not the first time that new domains have been added to the net. That has been done twice before in 2000 and 2004, said Ms Cowley.

"However," she said, "not all of those domains have been a resounding success."

Icann may have approved the .museum and .coop domains but few were using those suffixes, she said. Others such as .biz and .info had prospered.

"What's different this time round is that instead of having one new extension every few years we will have hundreds coming out in one year," said domain investor and blogger Michael Berkens.

Group identity

The attraction of gaining control of an entire domain had boosted interest, said Mr Berkens, with lots of groups submitting applications. The potential returns meant some of the bigger groups bidding for domains had won serious backing.

A start-up called Donuts Inc claims to have raised about $100m (£65m) to pay the registration fees for the 307 domains it has applied to run and to create the computer infrastructure to run those domains.

Sizeable investments have also been won by others such as Directi and Minds and Machines to fund their applications.

"However," he said, "not all of them are great ideas, not all of them will succeed."

Mr Berkens said some registrars of current domains had started to take reservations for names that could be popular when the new domains go live. Even though, he said, there were no guarantees that anyone applying to reserve a domain name, such as cats.lol, would get it.

"It will take quite a bit of education and marketing to make the behavioural change," he added. "People will need help with that learning curve."

What that means, he said, was that .com would remain the domain of choice for some time to come.

Ms Cowley from Nominet said that large businesses, like Microsoft, would be able to see the benefit of applying for and running their own domains, the picture was much less clear for smaller firms.

"If you have an established business, are happy with your name and your customers and prospective customers know where to find you, then I would not see a business case for moving," she said.

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