Bored by .org and .com? The world is your.oyster

When it comes to top-level domains, anything goes. pntphoto

We’re all familiar with web address suffixes such as .com and .org but from January next year, we could see the emergence of a whole host of different address endings.

In a meeting in Singapore yesterday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted to allow the sale and use of generic “top-level domains”.

To shed some light on this development, we spoke with Professor Bala Srinivasan (Srini), Professor of Information Technology at Monash University.

What is a top-level domain (TLD) and how will the range of TLDs be expanding next year?

Whenever you type a web address into your browser you use a TLD, even if you don’t realise it. The TLD is the collection of letters that follows the dot in a web address – .com and .edu are common examples but there are currently 22 different TLDs.

Individuals and organisations can add their own prefixes to these standard TLDs, creating the web addresses we known today, such as amazon.com or wikipedia.org.

The new system voted in by ICANN yesterday will allow organisations and individuals to effectively have any domain name they like. Instead of having .com they could have something interesting as their TLD, such as an individual’s name or the name of their business – ipad.apple for example.

Who’s likely to benefit from the introduction of generic TLDs?

If you look back at the internet over the past 20 or 30 years it’s definitely opened up the way the developed world disseminates information.

Unfortunately, the developing world has largely missed out on that expansion and from my point of view – as an information technologist – the internet should be able to help provide information and educate people all around the world.

In particular, this new development will be of great benefit for people in non-English speaking countries.

Until now, all domain names have been in English or in English characters but with the new system it will be possible to have domains written in any language or script. This could make a huge difference.

For many people around the world it’s hard enough to use a computer at all but when they have to type internet addresses in English when they don’t speak the language, it makes it even more difficult.

By making TLDs available in any language, it will make it that little bit easier for people in non-English speaking countries to get access to information on the internet.

Do you think the expansion of TLDs will be attractive to the business community? Will we see things like ipad.apple springing up soon?

It’s quite possible that some companies might want to own their own TLD to reflect their business or brand but it’s going to depend on a number of factors, including cost.

At the moment you can buy a domain name for around $10 a year which is very cheap for individuals but a TLD such as .apple is a different issue entirely.

There are suggestions it will cost as much as US$185,000 to register a generic TLD.

Companies such as Apple might be willing to pay this much because they can always recoup the cost by increasing the price of their products, but I doubt very much that smaller businesses – companies with an annual turnover of a couple million dollars or less – will be willing to pay that much for their relevant suffix.

At the end of the day though, the market will dictate how these things pan out: it might cost $185,000 to start off with but I doubt very much that the prices will stay that high.

There’s also a question of whether it’s even worth registering a TLD such as .apple.

Once people know about your product and they want to buy it, they don’t care what your website is called – product awareness is far more important than the company’s domain name.