Icann names some names

Will the new top-level domain names free up or foul up the unity of the Internet?

Will the new top-level domain names free up or foul up the unity of the Internet?

After an extraordinarily long and unsatisfactory process, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann has finally approved a series of new top-level domains (TLDs) - see . Details of the steps leading to these can be found at www.icann.org.

Some of them, for example .aero and .museum, are unexceptionable. As their names suggest, they are designed to create name-spaces for particular kinds of users. Presumably they are in the nature of test-cases, and if all goes well, more will be created analogously.

More novel is .coop which aims to serve the category of co-operative ventures - the argument being that neither .com nor .org is quite appropriate. As the details of the proposal spell out, one of the partners is the UK company Poptel.

Another of the new approved TLDs, .name, also has a UK connection, since it represents the fruits of a joint application that includes Nameplanet a company set up by three Norwegians in the UK.

Nameplanet holds about 700,000 personal e-mail addresses of the form john@smith.com, so setting up the .name TLD for personal domains is in part a defensive move: had someone else come up with it, Nameplanet's core business would have been seriously threatened. Interestingly, the original application was not just for .name, but also .nom, .san and .xing - which represent the equivalents to .name in various key languages.

The .pro, aimed at professionals, also has a UK firm behind it, Virtual Internet, which put the proposal together with Register.com. Register.com has been lucky with Icann's choices since it is also a member of the Afilias consortium, which won the rights to the .info TLD.

Afilias is "a consortium of 19 leading Icann-accredited Internet domain name registrars", including Network Solutions, which ran the main registry exclusively for many years. As such, it represents a further entrenchment of those already in power, rather than a broadening of the registry world. Despite this, its application is one of the most interesting, not least because it contains reams of statistics and projections on global use of the Internet.

Afilias originally requested .site and .web as well as .info, because each of these "transcends cultural boundaries, conveys multi-purpose use, and appeals to both businesses and individuals. One of the reasons it only obtained .info is that the .web TLD is a matter of contention. Image Online Design has been running an unofficial .web registry for some time, and applied to Icann for official recognition

Nor is .web the only highly sought-after name: Icann received five applications to run the .biz domain. JVTeam won. But here, too, there is a renegade outfit that claims to be registering .biz domains already.

This unofficial .biz forms part of a larger movement to open up the namespace. Called the Open Root Server Confederation, it wants to see the free creation of names, rather than one overseen by lumbering bureaucracies like Icann.

This is all well and good in principle, but in practice may lead to the balkanisation of the Internet, with the same domain name pointing to different servers according to whose DNS servers are employed. Since much of the strength of the Internet derives from its unified nature, such a fragmentation would be a serious threat to its future development.

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