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Monday, September 22, 2008

ICANN Ushers In New Era for Domain Names

by: Morgan Willard, MTTLR Associate Editor

This past June, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers voted upon and approved a set of measures that constitute sweeping changes for the way that the Domain Name System (DNS), the set of rules governing how internet addresses are located and assigned, works.

Specifically, the measures included two major expansions to how domain names will be registered in the future:

  1. Global Top-Level Domains (gTLDs), the universal extensions such as .com, .net, and .info that are appended to all web addresses, will no longer be restricted to a finite list that is voted upon and expanded by ICANN itself.
  2. Domain names will now accomodate non-Latin character sets such as Arabic and Cyrillic.

Both of these resolutions will have far-reaching implications for citizens of the internet.

Global Top-Level Domain Expansion

Hailed by ICANN as “a massive increase in the ‘real estate’ of the Internet”, it will soon be possible for companies and organizations to apply for the creation of a new gTLD. It is expected that there will be several different types of gTLDs that will quickly generate applications:

  • Generic Words: Categorical words such as the already existing .travel gTLD will likely spring up quickly to appeal to a wide variety of potential registrants. Expect to see applications for everything from .salon to .banana.
  • Regional Names: While countries are already able to get gTLD names through the Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) system, it is expected that a variety of other geographic and cultural communities will be interested in their own gTLD (imagine .nyc for New York City) similar to the existing .cat domain for the Catalan community.
  • Brands: Global brand names such as Amazon and Coca-Cola will likely be interested in having a gTLD of their own.

While the new system will open up many opportunities for enterprising organizations and possibly allow companies to stop sitting on a keyboard to create a short domain name, there are also valid concerns (especially for trademark holders) about such an open system.

Non-Latin Character Domain Names

Until the recent vote, all domain names had to be using the Roman alphabet. That is, even though there were country-specific TLDs for Russia (.ru) or China (.cn), the domain name itself had to be in the Roman alphabet. This was due to technical limitations: domain names previously used the ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) standard which is based on the English alphabet and does not allow for most non-English characters. In the future, the Unicode system will be used which allows for every character of every language to be represented.

This expansion will allow greater accessibility to the global internet community, as non-English-speaking users will now be able to access domains in their native language instead of having to learn and remember a different character set for interacting with the internet. However, there are some concerns that phishers (identity thieves) could create domain names using characters similar, but not identical, to their Latin counterparts to make domain names that may be misleadings to online users.

Further Analysis and Reading

For more information and analysis of the impacts of these changes, here are some useful links:

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