Customised domain names get greenlight
Added:Jun 27, 2008

ICANN, the nonprofit organisation that manages the Internet domain name system, has voted to open up the rules for top-level domain names.

Previously, the endings of top-level domain names were limited to a limited group of generic top level domains such as .com, .net, .org, as well as individual country code domain names such as .ca for Canada or .uk for the United Kingdom.

New names won’t start appearing until at least next year, and ICANN won’t be deciding on specific ones quite yet. The organization still must work out many details, including fees for obtaining new names, expected to exceed $100,000 apiece to help ICANN cover up to $20 million in costs.

Adding new suffixes can make it easier for Web sites to promote easy-to-remember names — given that many of the best ones have been claimed already under the .com suffix.

The streamlined guidelines call for applicants to go through an initial review phase, during which anyone may raise an objection on such grounds as racism, trademark conflicts and similarity to an existing suffix. If no objection is raised, approval would come quickly.

Jonathan Robinson, Chief Operating Officer at the domain name management specialist NetNames (, said a yes vote meaning that companies or individuals will effectively be able to buy generic top-level domain names ending in whatever they want.

“While it is clear the Internet domain name structure needs to evolve, the ICANN vote in favour of opening up Top Level Domains (TLDs) leads to complex questions for marketers and trademark owners.

“It can be argued that the expansion of available suffixes is the equivalent of opening a can of worms in terms of online infringement and cybersquatting – it seems logical to assume that as domain numbers increase, so too will the levels of speculative activity.

“Brand owners may find themselves in the position of having to register numerous new domains to protect themselves but, with varying fee estimates, that could well turn out to be an untenable marketing expense for some.

“Nonetheless, the impact on existing domains remains to be seen. In the case of a big brand, presumably any browsers visiting a newly registered domain would be redirected to the original TLD in any case. There will also be question marks over how new domains will affect Search Optimisation and consequent site traffic and PPC advertising rates.

“One thing that does seem clear is, with the final pricing and potential refund and dispute procedures not yet in place for applicants, brand owners and the trademark community will be keeping an extremely close eye on developments in the coming months,” Robinson concluded.

ICANN also voted unanimously to open public comment on a separate proposal to permit addresses entirely in non-English languages for the first time.

Addresses partly in foreign languages are sometimes possible today, but the suffix has been limited to 37 characters: a-z, 0-9 and the hyphen.

In other action, ICANN approved recommendations designed to clamp down on ‘domain name tasting’. This is where a loophole in registration policies allows entrepreneurs to grab domain names risk-free for up to five days to see whether they generate enough traffic and advertising dollars.

That practice ties up millions of Internet addresses, making it even more difficult for individuals and businesses to find good names in the crowded “.com” space. The new guidelines would withhold refunds if too many are returned.

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