Dot-com will soon have plenty of competition. Under new rules approved this week, top-level domains could be almost anything, such as .guitar, .tofu and .halibut.
ICANN, the Internet body overseeing domain names, voted to open up the top-level domain system to new name applications. No longer will generic top-level domains be restricted to current suffixes such as .com and .net. Applications for new names will be accepted beginning Jan. 12 next year, with the first approvals likely by the end of 2012.
Before you rush to apply for .johnsmith or .beekeeping, know that it won’t be cheap. The application fee is US $185,000, plus an annual fee of $25,000 once the domain is active. That makes it likely that new names will be tied to large companies, organizations or industries.
Price tag aside, this is a huge sea change to the domain name system. Up to now, top-level domains were limited to 22 widely used suffixes such as .com and .org, plus the larger group of 250 country-specific domains such as .ca and .uk. Branding for corporate or personal identity was achieved by registering an appropriate second-level domain, such as coke.com or sally.ca, at a relatively low cost. Under the new system, branding can be in the top-level domain itself, but at a high cost.
Japanese electronics manufacturer Canon says that it plans to apply to register top-level domain .canon. I would expect other large international brands, such as Coke, Sony, Apple, to register their company names early. What will be more interesting will be to see what non-corporate names are registered.