Ladies and gentlemen, the Web as we know it is about to be flipped upside down. And not in a good way.
Have you heard about this impending disaster? ICANN, the group that oversees the Internet’s domain name system, has decided to expand the Web’s set of available domain suffixes — you know, the end parts of Internet addresses, where you typically see .com or .net.
Instead of having a limited number of defined suffixes, as we do now, ICANN will soon let anyone apply for their own custom suffix — anything from .microsoft to .manscapingmadness. The suffixes can be as long as 63 characters, meaning I could conceivably move my website from jrstart.com to jr.dancing-chickens-bok-bok-so-many-tiny-feet-look-at-them-shimmy. In fact, I think I might.
Now, there is a catch: The new custom Internet suffixes will cost a cool $185,000 apiece. That’s a good bit more expensive than the standard 15-dollar-ish dot-com registration you see out there today. ICANN says it’ll also require applicants to prove they have a legitimate reason to own the suffix in question. (I won’t go into details, but let’s just say my dancing-chickens name is a shoo-in for approval.) The idea is that squatters won’t be able to go out and steal companies’ trademarks only to try to resell them a short time later.
That’s all fine and dandy, but think about what a mess this is going to become. Sure, any average Joe won’t be able to grab .ibm, but what’s to stop 5,000 different companies from clamoring for .computer? And how confusing is this going to get from a user perspective?
As it stands right now, the vast majority of Web surfers barely understand the structure of a domain; most non-techie people just assume everything is dot-com. What’s it going to be like when everyone’s suddenly faced with — for a hypothetical example — apple.com, buy.apple, apple.buy, and apple.store? It’s going to be a mess.
For businesses, it’s going to be an expensive mess, too. Instead of focusing on the current 22 generic suffixes (.com, .net, .org, and so on), companies will be pressured to “own their brands” by buying up every custom suffix that might come in handy. If nothing else, they’ll want to buy them simply to prevent someone else from doing so.
Would Microsoft, after all, want any other company to own .microsoft? How about .windows, .software, or .clippymustdie? Okay, that last one might be a stretch — but you get where I’m going here. The point is, no matter how you look at it, this is a Pandora’s box with virtually no limits; the only guarantee is chaos, confusion, and costliness.
As users, the one thing we can hope is that this will turn into another Internet innovation the world generally ignores. Past attempts to expand our dot-com-centric society have been forgettable flops (how many people do you know who regularly type .jobs, .museum, or .travel addresses into their browsers?). There’s a good chance this could become another revolution in theory that’s a failure in practice.
Still, I’m gonna go ahead and grab that dancing-chickens domain just to be safe. If anyone has $185,000 I can borrow, please let me know.
JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the co-founder of geek-humor site eSarcasm. You can find him on both Facebook, Twitter, or