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Coming soon: .everythingyoucanthinkof

June 26, 2008 |  2:36 pm

IcannUPDATE: Here's a more detailed version of this story from the paper.

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Ushering in the most dramatic expansion of virtual real estate in 40 years, the group controlling Web addresses said today that pretty much anyone would get a shot at buying a top-level domain to go along with the current crop, which includes .com and .net.

The Internet Corp. for Assigned Names & Numbers, which is as close as the Internet gets to a governing body, opted to open up the process to companies, individuals and coalitions. That means that any word or name approved by ICANN could conceivably follow the dot in a Web address. Get ready for .pickles and .google.

"The potential here is huge. It represents a whole new way for people to express themselves on the Net," ICANN Chief Executive Paul Twomey said in a news release issued from the group's Paris meeting. New domains could be forthcoming next year, after another round of refinements and the first applications.

"There are already interested consortiums wanting to establish city-based top level domain, like .nyc (for New York City), .berlin and .paris," ICANN said in the release.

The decision stems from ICANN's philosophy of keeping as little power for itself as possible, as well as from lobbying by the companies that dole out domain names. Those companies, including some in Los Angeles, see a potential windfall in administering new top-level domains and selling off individual addresses.

But not everyone was thrilled with the step. Critics warn that scammers will rush in, grabbing up trademarked names or misspelled versions of those names and then taking their chances in court.

"Google doesn't want a scam artist running Google.whatever," said tech policy consultant Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of the nonprofit People For Internet Responsibility. "It's almost like an extortion racket -- you'd better buy your name in this new top-level domain or you're going to get blamed."

"The process has been hijacked to a significant extent by folks who see the domain-name system as their personal piggy bank."

-- Joseph Menn

Image courtesy of ICANN

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