We're about to reach a sea change moment in internet naming. Starting early next year, organizations will be able to apply for their own Top Level Domains (TLDs). TLDs are the rightmost strings on internet addresses. We're all familiar with .com, .net, .edu, and the like, but if you include country code TLDs (ccTLDs), there are nearly three hundred of them in total.
This system has clear inherent weaknesses. How do I know if I need to find a specific domain at .com or .net? Do I look for a non-US business under .com or the appropriate ccTLD? What is the relationship between physical geography, national jurisdiction, and an internet domain? Is bit.ly really in Libya? What percentage of .co, .me, and .tv domains are for entities located in Columbia, Montenegro, and Tivolu, respectively? And how come nobody seems to have a .us domain?
Not to mention the bigger problem of what happens when all the useful words are taken. Believe it or not, we're facing that problem on popular domains like .com and .net. In particular, all legal strings of five or fewer characters are owned by someone on the .com TLD. That presents problems for businesses, charities, individuals, etc. who are looking to create sensible web addresses to communicate with the public.
I've long imagined that this naming system would require some kind of alteration as time went on. We're seeing a step in that progress (though surely not the last) coming up next year. When internet naming corporation ICANN opens for applications early next year, interested parties will be able to apply for their own TLDs. Since they won't be ccTLDs, they will go by the term general TLD, or gTLD.
New gTLDs could serve a number of functions. The obvious ones are naming spaces to serve a specific customer or type of content, such as .bank or .secure. There also is a great deal of interest in TLDs for cities (.paris) or for specific companies. It's easy to imagine the benefit of, let's say, .sony. In this case Sony could stand up sites at viao.sony, playstation.sony, movies.sony, customerservice.sony, etc.
Pundits are speculating that there will be thousands of gTLD applications, and I believe it. I, for one, am going to be fascinated to see how this whole things plays out.