Brands and places to name website domains
From this week, the names of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) - such as '.com' - will be governed by fewer restrictions, allowing businesses and other bodies to choose their own.
US authority ICANN (Internet Corporation For Assigned Names And Numbers) begins accepting applications for new GTLDs on Thursday 12 January 2012, meaning that brands and places can opt to suffix their website addresses with their own name, such as '.porsche', '.kfc' or '.london'.
The shift follows a vote by ICANN in June 2011, which chose to allow the use of alternative extensions, including the use of non-Latin letters. For example, Chinese and Arabic characters will be permissible under the new rules.
.Com was coined in 1985, later followed by country codes such as .uk, and .fr. Other options such as .gov and .info have also been available for some time, while .xxx was introduced in 2011 for use by adult websites.
Reactions to the latest planned change have been varied. Some companies, reportedly including drinks brand Pepsi, are keen to register their unique gTLDs as soon as possible.
Others, such as Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson, have expressed concern about confusing consumers and increasing costs. Application fees start from $185,000 (£114,000), with additional costs required to renew each domain on an annual or perennial basis.
Meanwhile, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is worried about fraud, largely stemming from misspellings such as Amazon.comm. An open letter from the FTC to ICANN said: "The potential for consumer harm is great, and ICANN has the responsibility both to assess and mitigate these risks."
There is also the question of whether the expansion of gTLDs will have an impact on the practice of search engine optimisation (SEO).
Mark Baker, online marketing manager at theEword, said: "There has been speculation from some quarters about the possible benefits of unique website address suffixes, as we know that relevant uniform resource locators (URLs) are liked by Google.
"As soon as the new gTLDs are active, we and others in the industry will be watching closely to see if any trends become apparent."