ICANN, holding its 32nd International Public ICANN Meeting June 22-26, 2008 in Paris, France, is set to vote on an substantial expansion of opportunity for new Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs). gTLDs are top-level domain extensions such as (.com, .net, and .org). It is expected that the voting bloc will approve the proposal when it comes up for the vote Thursday.
Late last summer, the ICANN Generic Names Supporting Organization issued their final report about the potential expansion. In a nutshell, the report recommended that ICANN liberally grant new gTLDs so long as the new gTLD and their operators would meet certain requirements.
First, strings in new gTLDs must not be confusingly similar to an existing top-level domain. So, you’re not going to see extensions like .con, .comm, or .nett. Second, strings must not be a “Reserved Word.” This includes no single letters, no two-letter extensions, and no Single Letter/Single Digit combinations. You wont see .a or .hq or .4H.
Third, “strings must not be contrary to generally accepted legal norms relating to morality and public order that are recognized under international principles of law.” Will “.xxx” be appropriate? We’ll likely see some type of dispute between the powers that be before that question is resolved.
Fourth, “strings must not infringe the existing legal rights of others that are recognized or enforceable under generally accepted and internationally recognized principles of law.” Just as the current policies prevent trademark infringing .com or .net names, any new gTLD would require similarly.
Finally, there are some technical and procedural requirements, mandating that any operator have the financial, technical and legal means to successfully run the extension.
So what does it all mean? In a word: confusion. There are already numerous gTLDs that do not receive much use. Adding hundreds of others could mean a very complicated web browsing environment. Time will tell, but chances are good that this means little for the average consumer unless business and industry start to heavily adopt the new extensions. Given the fact that use of the current alternative gTLDs is limited it is hard to imagine that additional gTLDs will attract much attention.