New Flood of Top-Level Domains Could Spell Chaos

I'm sorry. Were you looking for CocaCola.com, CocaCola.food or CocaCola.beverage? Cocacola.Sydney, perhaps? CocaCola.NewYork? On the new Web you may not know where you're going anymore.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is meeting in Sydney today to talk about, among other things, expanding the number of generic top level domains (everything to the right of the "dot" in a Web address), going beyond .com, .biz and 19 others available today. The plan is to allow a virtually unlimited number of gTLD options, starting in the first quarter of next year.

Advocates are lining up behind the proposed change. An Australian Premier would like a .sydney gTLD. Former vice president Al Gore is promoting .eco. And this week celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck flew into ICANN's conference in Sydney, Australia to advocate or a .food gTLD. Get ready: Top level domains could soon be as common as vanity license plates.

What does that mean for the Web? Innovation, says ICANN VP Paul Levins. But it also could mean quite a bit of confusion if they take off as quickly as the idea's promoters hope.

If all goes according to plan, the world could be looking at an initial wave of 500 new top level domains as early as the first quarter of 2010, with variations based on location or any other word or text string a registry operator wants to cook up.

All of this has trademark holders concerned. They're already dealing with cybersquatters who create domains that play off their brands in the current top level domains. Adding more gTLDs to police could become overwhelming. During a five-hour meeting today members began debating recommendations put forth by the intellectual property community to keep what is already a bad problem from getting worse.

Computerworld will be running a story tomorrow about those concerns and how ICANN is responding.

Some skeptics think the new domain names are going nowhere. But if they do take off, the world where you can find a company's Web site by simply adding .com to its name may be coming to an end.

In the new world, brand owners will need to decide in which out of an unlimited number of new top level domains they want their brand to have a presence. And users may need to fire up their favorite search engine to find them.

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