The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) put in motion new top-level domain name rules Monday, June 20, that are set to usher in virtually unlimited possibilities for the World Wide Web.

Meeting in Singapore, the group responsible for managing policy for domain names decreed that beginning in 2012 organizations may dispense with the familiar .com, .net, and the like in favor of almost anything they want — provided the organization is willing to pony up a hefty fee.

It will cost groups $185,000 to apply for a new Web suffix, which can now be any word in any language, according to the BBC.

The first round of applications for new top-level domain names begins next January 12, running for three months through April 12. In addition to the $185,000 upfront fee, successful applicants will also be required to pay a $25,000 annual fee to operate the registry.

Big corporations are already salivating at the idea of owning domains that more closely align with their branding. “Coke will have ‘.coke’. I imagine McDonalds will acquire ‘.McDonalds.’ I can feel the Internet gold rush starting again already,” said Lance Ulanoff in PCMag.com “However, where the mid-'90s rush required little more than a pick-axe and a horse-drawn wagon, this prospecting will require the equivalent of a Lamborghini and a safe-cracker.”

Governments, too, could come up with their own domains — any public or private organization can apply for a new suffix, according to ICANN. There has already been online chatter about the possibility of big cities taking ownership of a .Miami or a .Seattle, or a .Vegas, for example. A domain that’s specific to a city could be an economic driver and could help tourism.

ICANN President and Chief Executive Officer Rod Beckstrom said, “ICANN has opened the Internet’s naming system to unleash the global human imagination. Today’s decision respects the rights of groups to create new Top Level Domains in any language or script. We hope this allows the domain name system to better serve all of mankind.”

But not everyone shares Beckstrom’s enthusiasm.

“Oh please. Get over yourselves. The only point in opening the doors to an endless number of [top-level domains] is to increase the profits for domain name registrars (DNR),” said Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols at ZDNet. “For them, this will prove a license to print money. For businesses, who must protect their trademarks it will be a pain-in-the rump and some additional expense. I can already see people getting ready to grab the TLD ‘.cola’ and waiting to charge Coke and Pepsi for the ‘privilege’ of registering ‘coke.cola’ and ‘pepsi.cola.’”

Stephen Shankland at CNET sees the new domains as a “blessing and a curse,” suggesting that, “companies get new opportunities to reinforce their brand names, but at the same time it means trademark holders could face expensive new challenges in defending their trademarks.”

And Nicholas Thompson, writing in The New Yorker, fears the move will lead to diminished innovation and headaches for small businesses.

“I find the news mildly depressing. It’s yet one more way in which the Internet is becoming less free and open…Starting next year, lots of big companies will be spending lots of money to control sections of the Net; small companies, meanwhile, will be stuck fighting over .com addresses. Competition will become a little less fair, and the Internet will become a little less fun.”

Whether the new rules for top-level domains will be a boon — or boondoggle — remains to be seen. But by the end of next year, one thing is certain – your browser bookmarks are going to multiply. That is, unless, you enjoy typing .GovernmentTechnology.

(Photo Credit: ICANN)

Chad Vander Veen  |  Associate Editor