During a special meeting today in Singapore, the ICANN board of directors approved a plan to dramatically increase the number of Internet domain name suffixes (e.g., .com, .net, .org) -- called generic top-level domains (gTLDs) -- from the current set of 22 to a nearly unlimited range. The change opens the field for domain personalization by digital marketers and finally paves the way for domain names in new languages and scripts.

"Today's decision will usher in a new internet age," said Peter Dengate Thrush, ICANN board chairman. "We have provided a platform for the next generation of creativity and inspiration. Unless there is a good reason to restrain it, innovation should be allowed to run free."

Mutli-year Process Comes to a Close 

The decision to proceed with the gTLD program follows much discussion and debate with the Internet community, business groups and governments.

The Applicant Guidebook, provided by ICANN, is a rulebook explaining how to apply for a new gTLD. It went through seven iterations, incorporating public feedback and hundreds of comments. ICANN representatives emphasize that much effort was made to address the concerns and interests of the many peoples effected by the change.

The ICANN board voting June 20, 2011 in Singapore

Innovation, Confusion and Risks

Setting domain name innovation free brings new costs. Concerns have been raised about new forms of phishing, as the change brings potential for a large expansion in the number of domain names tied to a specific brand (e.g., your bank). This will require new strategies for identifying authentic domains vs. malevolent but similar domains designed to illegally harvest security credentials from unsuspecting visitors. This may lead companies to the point of registering their own gTLD (e.g., .ford, .oracle, .google, etc.).

Learning Opportunities

Marketers will need to make decisions about how many domains to purchase, in order to defend their brand, maximize awareness and protect their customers from potential phishing attempts.

Related Reading: Transitioning to IPv6: What Your Marketing Department Needs to Know

26 Year Old Grows New Legs

The domain naming system dates back to the 1980's, with the first ".com" domain being registered in 1985. According to wikipedia, by 1992 there were only 15,000 domains registered. In December 2010 more then 192 million were on the books, with the largest fraction utilizing the .com gTLD.

Applications for new Generic Top Level Domain suffixes will be accepted for a 90-day period starting on January 12, 2012. Applications can be for suffixes using nearly any word in any language, including Arabic, Chinese or other scripts. The filing fee will cost you only US$ 185,000.