Will web users get high on .coke?

Get ready for a new internet phenomenon, as the floodgates are opened to new domain suffixes. But will business really get hooked?

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 23 Sep 2011
We’re on the verge of an online revolution: you may be massively familiar with .com, home to more than 94m websites, or the country-specific suffix like .co.uk - two of a mere 22 options from which web users can currently choose to stick at the end of a web address. But that’s all set to change, as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (the very positive-sounding Icann) has voted for the biggest overhaul in the system since it was established 26 years ago. It will soon allow addresses to end with almost any word and be in any language, even Chinese or Arabic script.

Icann will begin taking applications next year for the new set-up, which is being touted as a huge branding opportunity for business. Indeed, it paves the way for such addresses as .google, .coke, or .sony. The catch? Corporates will have to cough up some serious wedge to be able to use their own name: $185,000 (£114,000) to apply for the suffix and a £15k a year annual fee. Cue a small section of the working world making an absolute mint out of doing very little.

Speaking of which, there is of course an obvious downside here, if companies wind up forking out in legal fees to protect their trademarks against the inevitable rival bids. Or having to buy up every permutation of their name to prevent it being used to flog goods it has nothing to do with. Remember the possibly apocryphal tale about the canny chap who bought the 21st Century Fox trademark? An urban myth perhaps, but Icann is clearly taking steps to prevent the same thing happening here: companies will have to show a legitimate claim to the name they are buying, and jump through all sorts of hoops - described as ‘roughly the equivalent of getting approval to build a sky scraper’ by one observer.

The question remains whether companies will be that bothered to go through all the hassle and take such a financial hit just for a few simple letters. Especially as people often come to sites through search engines like Google or links from other sites these days, and may not even notice the URL.

But it’s not just for business. Bids are already being prepped for .sport, and the WWF is preparing one for .eco. Which suggests a new opportunity for enterprising opportunists: snapping up whole pockets of the internet, presumably to rent them out to others in that community.

And it could feasibly get grimmer than that. ‘Icann has opened the internet's addressing system to the limitless possibilities of the human imagination,’ said Icann’s CEO Rod Beckstrom. Oh dear. Under the current set-up you’d have to be very creative to make a splash (take TV’s hipster spoof Nathan Barley, the ‘self-facilitating media node’ who proudly registered his site in the Cook Islands to get the suffix.’co.ck’). ‘No one can predict where this historic decision will take us,’ Beckstrom added. We shudder to think.

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