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If Google has its way, you won't need "Google.com" to do your searches. You can simply go to ".Google."
New York City wants Internet addresses ending in ".nyc," while several companies and groups are looking to create ".doctor," ".music" and ".bank." Google Inc. is also seeking ".YouTube" and ".lol" -- the digital shorthand for "laugh out loud." Others are looking to attract non-English speakers with suffixes in a variety of languages.
Some 2,000 proposals have been submitted as part of the largest expansion of the Internet address system since its creation in the 1980s. These suffixes would rival ".com" and about 300 others now in use. Companies would be able to create separate websites and separate addresses for each of their products and brands, for instance, even as they keep their existing ".com" name. One day, you might go to "comedy.YouTube" rather than "YouTube.com/comedy."
The organization behind the expansion, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, will announce a full list and other details in London on Wednesday.
It'll take at least a year or two, however, for the first of these new suffixes to win approval and appear in use.
Some of them never will if they are found to violate trademarks or are deemed offensive. Others will be delayed as competing bidders quarrel for easy-to-remember words such as ".web." When multiple applications seek the same suffix, ICANN will encourage parties to work out an agreement. ICANN will hold an auction if the competing bidders fail to reach a compromise.
The expansion, already several years in the works, had been delayed by more than a month this spring because of technical glitches with the application system.
From a technical standpoint, the names let Internet-connected computers know where to send email and locate websites. But they've come to mean much more. Amazon.com Inc., for instance, has built its brand around the domain name.
Alex Stamos, whose Artemis Internet company is bidding for ".secure," said the expansion will "create much more specific neighborhoods with specific focus and goals."
Stamos envisions ".secure" as a neighborhood for banks, medical professionals, payroll providers and others needing to establish consumer trust. Websites that adopt ".secure" instead of ".com" in their names would go through additional screening and be required to follow certain security practices such as encryption of all Web traffic.
The suffixes are restricted to the richest companies and groups, who paid $185,000 per proposal. If approved, each suffix would cost at least $25,000 a year to maintain, with a 10-year commitment required. By comparison, a personal address with a common suffix such as ".com" usually costs less than $10 a year.
ICANN has received at least $350 million in applications fees, which will pay for the organization's costs setting up the system, reviewing applications and making sure parties do what they have promised once the suffix is operational. Some of the money will be set aside to cover potential lawsuits from unsuccessful applicants and others.
Despite the startup costs, suffixes could potentially generate millions of dollars a year for winning bidders. For instance, a startup company called ICM Registry now receives some $60 a year for every ".xxx" registered, including money from colleges and universities that have been buying names such as "KUgirls.xxx" to make sure others can't. That startup now wants ".sex," ".porn" and ".adult."
Stamos said he expects to charge thousands of dollars for a ".secure" name. The idea is to attract just those businesses that need the higher level of security.
Not all bidders will be looking to sell names under their suffixes, though. Google, for instance, may decide to keep ".Google" for its own sites, though it indicated it might open ".YouTube" for brands to create video channels. Google declined comment on specifics beyond a recent blog post.
Skeptics worry that an expansion will mean more addresses available to scams that use similar-sounding names such as "Amazom" rather than "Amazon" to trick people into giving passwords and credit card information. Others worry that new suffixes could create additional platforms for hate groups or lead to addresses ending in obscenities. ICANN spent years crafting guidelines meant to curtail nefarious activities, but critics say there aren't enough safeguards in place. Critics include a coalition of business groups worried about protecting their brands in newly created names.
There's also a question of how useful the new names will be, at least among English speakers. Alternatives to ".com" introduced over the past decade have had mixed success. These days, Internet users often find websites not by typing in the address but by using a search engine. And with mobile devices getting more popular, people are using apps to bypass Web browsers entirely.
The demand for new suffixes appears greater outside the U.S. That's because many of the ".com" names had been grabbed by Americans who got on the Internet first. In addition, suffixes had been largely limited to the 26 letters of the English alphabet until now.
"I don't think any of these will be the next dot-com," said Bhavin Turakhia, founder and CEO of Directi Group, a Dubai company that is seeking ".click," ".baby," ".insurance" and 28 others. "Dot-com had too much of a legacy to be outdone in a short period of time. But it has potential to be a very strong alternative and over time capture reasonable market share."
ICANN has already allowed two major expansions of the addressing system. In 2000, it approved seven new domains, including ".info" and ".biz." It began accepting new bids again in 2004. It added seven from that round, including ".xxx" last year. It also cleared others on an ad hoc basis, including ".eu" for the European Union and ".ps" for the Palestinian territories.
Under the new system, the application process will be streamlined and allow for up to 1,000 new suffixes a year.