UPDATED 01:36 EDT / JULY 18 2013


ICANN Awards Four New Internet Domains, But .amazon Is Up The Creek

It’s been an interminably long road, but the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has finally taken its first concrete steps towards changing the way the world wide web will be navigated in future. Yesterday, it awarded contracts for the first four new top level domains.

Till now, we’ve hardly used any top level domains (TLDs) – just .com, .org, .net, .edu and one or two others. But the web is fast becoming a very crowded place (just try finding a decent .com domain these days), and that has spurred ICANN open things up a little, creating 2,000 new TLDs before auctioning them off to interested companies and governments.

It’s going to take some time for all of the new TLDs to be awarded and activated, but today marks the start of that process. The first four domains are unlikely to mean much to our readers – these are all foreign script words, including the Russian words for “website” and “online”, the Arabic word for “network”, and the Chinese word for “game”, but nevertheless it’s a start. The domains have been officially awarded, but CircleID says it’ll be another nine months or so before they go active. As for when names such as .Google and .Microsoft finally come available, that’s still undecided, and likely to be a couple of years away at least.

Less clear is how these names will actually benefit the companies that use them. Those who’ve been bidding for the TLDs are essentially a who’s who of the world’s most successful internet brands in any case, and so it’s not like they’re bidding for any particular SEO advantage the domains might give them. Rather, some experts suggest that the TLDs are more likely to be used for marketing purposes – for example companies could giveaway personalized web domains to their customers as some kind of gimmick (like Nike could start an online community for running enthusiasts, giving everyone a .nike domain of their own). Meanwhile, more cynical critics have argued that the whole TLD auction thing is in reality just a way for ICANN to milk cash from large corporations, many of which might be concerned that spammers, hackers or pornographers will try to hijack their brand names.

Whatever the reasons for wanting to own a TLD, there’s been a few interesting squabbles along the way. For example, Saudi Arabia took it upon itself to become the world’s defender of morals, vehemently objecting to domain names like .gay, .sex, .porn, .vodka, and .africamagic (yes, really. Apparently ‘black magic’ is offensive to some people). Then there’s the case of Amazon, which apparently has a bit of a soft spot for these TLDs, bidding for no less than 80 of them. Unfortunately for Amazon, it’s likely to miss out on the one it wants most of all – its bid for .amazon has met with strong opposition from Latin American countries that argue that no company should be allowed control of a TLD that’s linked to a geographic region, something that’s also caused problems for the clothing manufacturer Patagonia as well.

You might think these arguments are all quite trivial, but there could be a serious amount of money at stake. For example, whoever ends up with the .book domain could find itself in a pretty powerful position – you only have to look at the case of Tuvalu and its .tv domain, which it leases out for millions of dollars each year, to see the potential value that some of these domains could hold.

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