On Thursday, a digital land rush kicks off that could produce a torrent of new Web addresses for the first time in more than a decade. ICANN, the non-profit that manages several Internet-related tasks, will start accepting applications to manage new top-level domains — the names that appear at the end of website addresses, such as .com and .org.
The addition of new domain names — .shop is among the potential ones — is part of ICANN's charter to create an open, dynamic Internet. "It's an opportunity for brands to carve their slice of the market," says ICANN spokesman Brad White.
Applying to be the overseer of a new top-level domain, or a "registry holder," doesn't come cheap. It requires an $185,000 fee, more than twice what ICANN charged in 2000 when it last accepted applications for top-level domains. And it takes time. ICANN says it expects the application process to take up to a year.
The bids, which are being accepted for 90 days, require details about applicants' finances and technical capability, and how they plan to use the domains they're seeking, White says. If more than one equally qualified applicant seeks the same domain name, an auction could occur.
The goal of many overseers is to sell their names to registrars such as GoDaddy.com. The registrars, in turn, resell secondary names — words to the left of the dot — to companies and individuals that want to own Web addresses.
Since overseers are likely to have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on technical support and promotional efforts, many could be large companies such as Canon that want to control the registries they acquire. Only major brands such as Coke and Nike can apply for total-level domain names bearing their names, making them masters of their own domains.
"For a bank, should it acquire a top-level domain-name, it would leave no doubt about the authenticity of its addresses, reducing the chances of spam and phishing attempts," says Jim Rogers, a vice president of marketing at Neustar, a provider of registry services that has applied for the "neustar" domain.
The last major addition of a new suffix, .jobs, did not upend the market.
"For those who think there is no need for alternative options, look at our growth," says Juan Diego Calle, CEO of .CO Internet SAS. Since it launched in July 2010, it has assigned about 1 million registered sites with the .co domain. Though most of its customers are start-ups, they also include Google (G.co) and Twitter (T.co).