The fifth of March may turn out to be something like Christmas, if yours is one of the many companies out there disappointed over the modest choice of seven new top-level domain names (TLDs) released by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN) before the holidays last November. Your wish might finally have been granted: Now, your company can change its Web-site name to something really snazzy, like pie.shop or cuddlytoys.kids or borneo.travel or hiphop.mp3. And it all seems to be perfectly legal.
New.net, a Pasadena (Calif.), startup, has unveiled a technology it characterizes as a kind of second-tier domain-name system discreetly tucked inside ICANN's existing domain-name server (DNS) framework. So instead of the usual old saws -- .com, .net, .gov, .edu, and .org -- users can take any of the following new 20 domain names offered by New.net: .shop, .mp3, .inc, .kids, .sport, .family, .chat, .video, .club, .hola, .soc, .med, .law, .travel, .game, .free, .ltd, .gmbh, .tech, and .xxx. The fee: a flat $25.00. Applicants will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis. "We think that organizations will love these domains because they will enable them to create Web addresses that will more clearly describe their product, service activity, or passion," New.net CEO David Hernand told reporters in a conference call announcing the new monikers on Mar. 5.
Hernand described the establishment of what amounts to a virtual parallel-universe to ICANN. "We are a market-based solution to the naming system, in contrast with a political-based solution...which has moved slowly," he said. "So today, we offer a market solution to the overcrowded name space." With these carefully chosen words, Hernand was essentially thumbing his nose at ICANN, which has been harshly criticized as a tight-fisted distributor of TLD privileges. "We want to be inclusive and invite others to join our effort," Hernand said, noting that his site will actually solicit users' suggestions for future TLD names.
Hernand said Internet service providers (ISPs) EarthLink, Excite@Home, and NetZero have already agreed to allow access to New.net's names for some 16 million users. He predicted that all other ISPs will also sign on. In the meantime, he said, users can modify their browsers to accept the new domain names via a plug-in available at the company Web site, www.new.net. "Our research has indicated a tremendous market demand to move beyond .com and .net," Hernand said.
Significantly, a number of the new TLDs were rejected for first-tier classification by ICANN, which itself had "no comment" on the New.net project. Probably the most controversial rejectee was ".kids." Hernand said his company has solved the problem of potential misuse by child predators and pornographers by partnering with the very company that applied to ICANN, Kids Domains Inc. Now, Kids Domains will screen all potential ".kid" users to ensure their compliance with the Online Kids Privacy Protection Act. New.net also has partnered with MP3.com, as the exclusive seller of the .mp3 TLD.
As for possible difficulties with ICANN, Hernand acknowledged that this could be a problem: "The potential conflict is there. We think that if we do a good job of selling names and businesses, and users set up Web sites...that ICANN will be more reluctant to want to tread on the choice exercised by so many other Internet users."
Hernand also promised to address the needs of a global Internet, which has long been neglected by the existing English-based naming system. The new ".hola" ("hello" in Spanish) and ".gmbh" ("inc." in German) TLDs will begin to address this problem, Hernand said, and his company also will introduce TLDs in foreign-language character sets in the near future.
Users may not be aware of it, but the new domain-name Web pages will append the extension ".new.net" onto their individual addresses, so that requests will be automatically routed to New.net's DNS servers to determine the correct Internet address. Is there legal trouble ahead? "We do not see our business as running in conflict with ICANN. Rather, we see this as a supplement to what ICANN has done thus far," Hernand replied. He added that a good analogy was what cable TV has offered as an alternative to network TV. Following through on that, it seems New.net intends to offer users more choices -- and give ICANN some competition.
By Joan Oleck in New York
Edited by Douglas Harbrecht