London - An unprecedented land grab for new Web addresses
began in earnest on Wednesday with fierce competition for new internet real
estate including .app, .blog and .web from applicants hoping to break the
near-monopoly of the .com top-level domain.
The ambitious plan to liberalise internet addresses
attracted 1 930 applications, almost half of them from North America, with Web
giants Amazon and Google applying for dozens of domains including .cloud, .buy
The liberalisation of top-level domains beyond the fewer
than two dozen in existence - dominated by .com, .org and .net - is intended to
stimulate competition and innovation by giving organisations more control over
their Web presence.
Critics say the new suffixes are unlikely to catch on, and
some trademark owners have complained that the move is causing them unnecessary
expense - at $185 000 per application plus running costs - to defend their
Previous small-scale experiments in liberalising domains led
to low take-up of suffixes such as .museum, .jobs and .travel.
"At the highest level, this is all about creating
competition to .com," said Jonathan Robinson, non-executive director of
internet registry services company Afilias, which has applied for more than 100
new domains on behalf of clients.
"That's where short, memorable, distinctive
three-letter type terms become very interesting," said Robinson, whose
organisation already provides key infrastructure for .org, .info and .mobi.
Competing applications were received for 231 domain names.
The most popular were .app with 13 bids, .home with 11, and .inc with 12.
Technology giant Apple's claim to .apple was uncontested by
the Apple music label or anyone else.
"The big names of the internet have either invested
massively or not at all," said Stuart Durham, European sales director for
Melbourne IT, which has handled 150 applications on behalf of clients.
"There appear to be no applications from Facebook or
Twitter. There are different strategies in play here and some big
Just 17 applications were received from Africa, and 116 for
names in non-Latin alphabets. Expanding the internet beyond the Latin alphabet
was one of the original reasons behind the liberalisation drive, which began
seven years ago.
US non-profit organisation the Internet Corporation for Assigned
Names and Numbers (ICANN) will now spend the rest of the year assessing the
applications, with contested domains going to auction where more than one party
has a legitimate claim. The first new domains are likely to come online in the
first half of 2013.
Some critics, including senior figures at Google, have
warned that the liberalisation risks effectively privatising the internet by
giving already powerful Web players more scope to control portions of it.
"Our concern is that this could lead to more
Facebook-style walled gardens as big brands seek to keep you in their own areas
of the internet," said Stephen Ewart, marketing manager for Names.co.uk, a
British domain-name registrar.
"Make no mistake, this change to the domain name world
will lead to more competition and consumer choice, but it could also be viewed
as a silent privatisation of the Web - for better or worse," he said.
The project is a key test for ICANN, whose authority to
administer the Web's naming systems is being challenged by emerging nations who
say it is too US-centric.
"The plan we have delivered is solid and fair,"
ICANN chief executive Rod Beckstrom told journalists at a news conference in
London. "It is our fundamental obligation to increase innovation and
Nations - including China, Russia and Brazil - are pushing
for ICANN's functions to be transferred to a body such as the United Nations,
in which governments would have more control.
ICANN is set to net some $350m from the liberalisation
project - about five times its annual budget.
Beckstrom said the organisation had priced the applications
to cover its costs and that the use of any surplus would be decided by its
community - which includes internet companies, governments and ordinary