The Internet is quietly exploding. More than 300 new top-level domains -- the extension of the Internet address after the dot, such as .com or .net -- were created in recent months by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, including .services, .vodka and .WTF.
ICANN, the nonprofit group that manages the Internet's name-and-address system, has also approved the creation of more than 1,000 additional extensions to be released in the coming years, sparking a huge land grab in the Internet's Wild West.
According to ICANN, the world of .com has grown too crowded. Created by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1985 to classify "commercial" websites, .com is the largest extension, home to more than 100 million websites. Competition for short, easy-to-remember addresses is intense. In the past few years, Candy.com sold for $3 million, Toys.com for $5.1 million and Sex.com -- proving the Internet's pornographic bona fides are still going strong -- fetched $13 million.
When ICANN opened the application process for new extensions in 2012, it received more than 1,930 applications, each accompanied by a fee of $185,000. If approved, an applicant could sell domain space through ICANN-accredited registrars, such as GoDaddy. Individuals and companies could then purchase unique web addresses -- a dentist could buy a domain on .dental or a travel company could buy one on .vacations, for example.
Google, Apple, Netflix, Sony, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Wal-Mart, Gap and Allstate, among others, applied for new extensions. Many want them to be specific to their brands, such as .google and .walmart. (Amazon wanted .amazon but South American nations successfully opposed it.) Applicants also vied for control of categories, including .cloud, .book and .blog. Some of them, including .app, were so popular that they will be auctioned to the highest bidder.
The largest applicant, domain registry Donuts Inc., applied for 307 extensions, with .guru emerging as the company's most popular option so far, attracting more than 65,000 registrations.
The new Internet offers niche appeal. Kirsten.com? Taken. Kirsten.guru? Available. So is Kirsten.cool, Kirsten.media and Kirsten.ninja. I can't say I'm not tempted. Kirsten.ninja could be mine for an easily affordable $24.99 a year.
There are some protections. Companies with trademarks can register with the ICANN Trademark Clearinghouse, which affords them a period of exclusive access to register their domains. It also notifies them when a domain matching their trademark has been registered by someone else. Donuts offers to block trademarked names across its properties for a $3,000 fee payable every five years. A company such as Target, for example, could prevent someone else from buying Target.fail. (Yes, .fail is real.)
So far, the new domains seem more novelty than necessity. The .biz extension, which has been around since 2001, never took off as a serious competitor to .com. Some of the newly created extensions seem to compete with themselves -- .money and .finance, for instance. And how much demand could there be for addresses ending in .yachts?
With so much new terrain, the lords of the new Internet domains could discover that their fiefdoms are a whole lot of empty .space.
To contact the writer of this article: Kirsten Salyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this article: Francis Wilkinson at email@example.com.