June 30, 2008, 12:00 AM

ICANN approves plan for new system of domain names

ICANN, the organization that coordinates the Internet’s system of domain names, announced yesterday a plan to expand the availability of web addresses to allow for such domain names as Gap.apparel as an alternative to Gap.com.

Katie Evans

Managing Editor, International Research

ICANN, the organization that coordinates the Internet’s system of domain names, announced yesterday a plan to expand the availability of web addresses to allow for such domain names as Gap.apparel as an alternative to Gap.com.

“It represents a whole new way for people to express themselves on the Internet," says Paul Twomey, CEO of ICANN, which stands for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. "It`s a massive increase in the `real estate` of the Internet."

The new names will be limited only by someone’s imagination, as long as they aren’t too confusing or too similar to existing names, says a spokesman for ICANN. “We’ve already seen a high level of interest,” he says.

ICANN will consider input from business, government and individuals over the next several months before opening up the new domain names to applications in the second quarter of next year as planned, the spokesman says. For a fee that could range anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000, he adds, a business or individual will be able to apply for and register a new top-level domain-the word or characters that follow the last dot in a web address-then use it internally or sell it to other web site operators.

If someone registered .sportinggoods as a domain, for example, he could sell it to a retailer that wanted to identify itself in the sporting goods market, such as with the web address XYZTennis.sportinggoods instead of XYZTennis.com. But a company could also limit the new domain name to its own use. If Wal-Mart Stores Inc. registered .walmart, it could establish a set of web addresses for each of its product categories, such as Toys.walmart and Womensshoes.walmart, the ICANN spokesman says.

The new system also has broad implications for global business, ICANN says. The current system of domain names supports only 37 characters, all Roman. But the plan is to support a much broader range of languages. “This is going to be very important for the future of the Internet in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Russia,” says Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of ICANN.

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