By Hiawatha Bray
Get ready for the biggest real-estate boom in a decade. Only this time, it’s digital real estate in trendy new Internet neighborhoods, with names such as .art, .book and .singles.
The Internet — until now largely confined to just a few domain names, most notably .com — will soon have hundreds of distinct new addresses that will more sharply define the websites in those neighborhoods, making it easier for Internet users to find exactly what they’re looking for.
The first of the new domains in the Latin alphabet include .bike, .clothing, .singles, and .plumbing.
“It introduces creativity back into the domain space,” said James Cole, a spokesman for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.
With nearly every popular and easy-to-remember name taken in existing domains, such as .com and .org., the global organization, which manages Internet addresses, is authorizing so-called “generic top-level domain names,” or gTLDs, to allow businesses and individuals to create millions of memorable online addresses, such as thebible.book, picasso.art, or redsox.boston.
“These names are all very specific, and that was the point,” said Mason Cole, a spokeswoman for a Bellevue, Wash., company that has spent nearly $57 million applying for the rights to some 307 new domains. “They’re far more specific and relevant than the existing namespace.”
Many of the new names indicate the kind of content browsers would expect to find there, such as .art or .book.
Some cover diverse interests with a simple name: .club, for example, could be for nightclubs and their night-owl patrons, or for fan clubs.
“It’s generic, but it means something,” said Colin Campbell, a Florida businessman who is applying for the rights to the .club domain. “It helps with the search itself. If you were actually trying to join a Billy Joel fan club … that might direct you to billyjoel.club.”
Campbell hopes to sell .club addresses to social groups around the world for around $20 each.
And for the first time, ICANN is authorizing domain names in alphabets other than the Latin letters used in most Western languages. It has already approved four domains, for example, in Arabic, Chinese, and Cyrillic.
Some critics warn that in a climate where cybercriminals are stealing the private data of millions of consumers, the proliferation of new domains could introduce a whole new arena for fraud.
Jon Leibowitz, a former Federal Trade Commission chairman, said online criminals could use the new domains to create countless fake websites designed to simulate the sites of legitimate businesses.
ICANN has set up safeguards to prevent the fraudulent use of trademarks in the new domains, but Leibowitz worries these protections are inadequate.
A crook could be prevented from setting up a site called bestbuy.mobile, because Best Buy is a trademark of the well-known electronics retailer. But changing the name to, say, bestbuyz.mobile might pass muster with ICANN’s trademark monitoring system.
“It could create enormous amounts of consumer confusion and lots of opportunities for fraud,” said Leibowitz, now an attorney at Davis Polk & Wardwell in Washington.
Others, though, said the new domains will make the Internet safer.
For example, many popular brands have applied for domains in their own names, which will assure consumers they have arrived at the authentic site of those companies. The German carmaker BMW, for example, has applied for .bmw, and Ford Motor Co. for .ford.
Kevin Murphy, publisher of DomainIncite, an online publication that tracks the industry, said the new domains, “in particular dot-brands, have the potential to eventually reduce fraud on the Internet.”
Domain names were created because people hate to memorize numbers.
The existing top-level domain names effectively divide the Internet into very general digital neighborhoods, with .com and .net for businesses and general-purpose users.