The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the organization that is ultimately in charge of distributing internet names and IP addresses. They are the ones that enforce the use of .com, .net, .org, and everything else.
And so, on June 20th, ICANN announced that it was opening up the internet to almost anything. For the first time, an internet address doesn't have to end in ".com" or ".net" or ".au". Instead, it could end in ".john" or ".smith", if an enterprising John Smith wanted to pony up the $185,000 to register his own top level domain.
At first, I was "meh" about this story. Who's going to sign up for this, and what will it do for them? Take a prior example: the small western Pacific country of Tuvalu was given the country code of ".tv" in 1998. (Each country gets its own country code for country-specific things on the internet: .au for Australia, .uk for the United Kingdom, .ad for Andorra ... there's a whole list here) Businesses lined up behind Tuvalu to "rent" some of their .tv space, with the thinking that it would be really cool to have sites like www.cheers.tv or www.jeopardy.tv -- that all your favorite tv shows would have a .tv address.
But it hasn't really turned out to be all that popular, and Tuvalu appears to have gotten short-changed in the process.
So, at first, I was pretty "meh" about the whole thing. A nice idea, a $185,000 price tag to keep out spammers and the lowly bloggers like myself, and a limit of 1,000 new top-level domains per year. Who would sign up for this?
The answer: almost every tech savvy company out there. Think about it:
You get the point. Big businesses will have the opportunity to closely align the company name with their product on the internet. And, depending on how ICANN sets it up, you may even be able to dispense with the www stuff -- simply type in "twitter" in your browser, and you'll be taken straight to Twitter's home page.
The era of ".com" will seem quaint in 5 years.