It’s not easy to get a short, crisp Web address. In the twenty-eight years since the now-extinct computer maker Symbolics registered the first .com address, symbolics.com, the most economical and memorable Internet addresses have mostly been claimed. Even longer addresses, or domains, like a person’s full name, might not be available—or, more likely, there will be some cyber squatter waiting to ask you for two hundred dollars if you want to develop that virtual vacant lot.
The real estate has been limited because most Web addresses can end in one of just twenty-two generic, top-level domains—also known as g.T.L.D.s, or strings—like .com, .net, or .org. (Country or territory strings like Canada’s .ca are exceptions, as are sponsored domains, like .gov, .edu, and .aero, which require proof of service to a particular community or function–in these cases, government agencies, higher education, or the aviation industry.)
Since 1998, the task of authorizing new domains, when appropriate, has fallen to the non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). In 2011, it approved a plan “to dramatically increase the number of Internet domain name endings” by allowing Web addresses “to end with almost any word in any language.” With this new address scheme, CNN, for instance, could potentially acquire the domain .cnn and host its Syria coverage at syria.cnn, rather than something like cnn.com/syria. The plan, which will radically change the way we think about Web addresses, promised to solve two problems: it creates vast new tracts of Internet real estate, and, by allowing non-Roman characters in domains, it offers a way for users in Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East to connect in their native languages.
Suddenly reorganizing the way we navigate the web with new strings like .guru, .club, or .google might seem frivolous or strange, but entities like ICANN and its stakeholders insist that they will make the Web more intuitive and user-friendly; an address like AdoptA.dog is slightly more logical than PetAdoptions.com, which is currently occupied by a squatter. (Not in contention: .cat, which is reserved for the Catalan-speaking community.) more