From dot-com to dot-dating
The Internet is about to get a big makeover.
For the first time since 2004, new domains are hitting the Web—meaning that people will soon be able to register websites with addresses that end in tags such as .dating, .expert or .CEO.
(Read more: Why the Internet may never be the same)
Why the explosion of new domains?
Proponents say so many websites are registered on the most popular domain—.com—that opening up more top-level ones will give new companies an opportunity to get a choice name for their website.
"The premise of the entire program is this principle that competition is good for everyone," said Richard Tindal, the chief operating officer of Donuts, an Internet domain registry. "This gives people and businesses more meaningful choices in Internet addresses and creates less friction in working with competitors."
Until last year, the Web had only 22 generic top-level domains (gTLDs)), including the ones people are most familiar with: .com, .org, .gov and .net.
Of the hundreds expected to launch in the next year or so, many will go live next week, though a few are already available.
What new domains will be available, and when?
Some domains will be sold at a substantial premium initially.
For example, Web addresses ending in .photography start pricing at $12,524 on Feb. 5. The price gradually decreases every daily for a week until it reaches the standard price of $39.99 on Feb. 12, according to GoDaddy.com.
It's unclear whether anyone has actually paid this much yet (registrars don't release that information), but Troy Larson, an attorney at Ballard Spahr, said that those doing so are most likely looking to protect their brand.
How does this work?
Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)—the nonprofit responsible for adding the domains—began letting registries apply for the new gTLDs in 2011. The application process ended in May 2012, when ICANN officials began sorting through almost 2,000 submissions.
Not all made the cut, but there could be as many as 1,400 new names approved and added to the domain naming system, according to the organization.
(A full list of new domain names that have been approved can be found on ICANN's website.)
Addresses with the new domains will be sold by registrars, such as GoDaddy.com and Web.com, which buy the addresses from the registries, such as Donuts, that applied for control of the new gTLDs.
Who is controlling the new domains?
Though the controlling companies are still being finalized, some gTLDs have already been granted to certain registries.
Donuts, for example, applied for more than 300 gTLDs and has signed a registry agreement with ICANN for 100-plus—more than any other registry.
Because there were multiple applicants for some of the domains, however, Donuts expects to gain control of about 200 in the end, Tindal said.
Some big tech companies also got in on the action.
Google, through a subsidiary, also applied for about 100, including .ads, .eat and .meme.
Amazon also bid for almost 80 names, including .box, .book and .kindle.
—By CNBC's Cadie Thompson. Follow her on Twitter