There are plenty of wild and crazy things happening on the internet, but domain names aren’t usually one of them.  The domain name system tends to function quietly and efficiently in the background, administered by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). But domain names are about to become centre stage for the first time.

Brace yourselves – .anything is coming.

At the moment, there are a limited number of generic or worldwide top level domains (gTLDs for short). .Com, .net and .org are all examples of this type of domain. New gTLDs are occasionally introduced, and the introduction of .asia in 2007 brought the total number up to 21 (the complete list of gTLDs can be found here if you are interested, including such obscurities as .aero and .museum).

Still, ICANN thinks more gTLDs are needed – a lot more. In a move that will turn the domain name system as we know it upside down, ICANN plans to introduce an unlimited number of new domain name extensions – in effect, any word or combination of letters could become a domain name extension. They are expecting 500 new applications in the first round alone, which would result in an explosion of new domain name extensions.

Current thinking is that the new extensions will most likely fall into three main categories:

”Vanity” gTLDs used by companies for their own business. For example, Canon have already expressed an interest in the .canon domain.

Generic gTLDs such as .bank, .restaurant, .phone

Geographic gTLDs relating to cities or districts – for example, Berlin intends to apply for a .Berlin gTLD.

Domain name revolutionOwners of these new gTLDs could either choose to sell subdomains (eg; the owner of the <.bank> domain could sell <>, <>) or to maintain the gTLD for its exclusive use (eg; <,>). However, with an application fee of $185,000 US and ongoing costs of US$60,000 per year, it’s likely that most new registrants will be looking at ways to recoup some of that investment.

So when is all this happening? Nobody is quite sure. The rules and regulations for the application process are not yet finalised, so best guess at the moment is that the first new gTLDs will go live towards the end of this year.

If you’re interested in the details of the proposal, the latest version of the Proposed Final Applicant Guidebook (the rules and regulations for the new gTLDs) is on the ICANN website here. There’s also a useful summary from the Department of Broadband, Communications and Media.

The big question in my mind is whether the new domains will replace .com as the default domain name option.

Will we learn to search for .canon instead of What do you think?