By the end of this year, addresses on the Web might be allowed to use new suffixes such as .shop, .tel and .news in addition to existing suffixes such as .com and .org. But how many more suffixes or how they will be used remains to be worked out.
The resolution was passed unanimously Sunday by the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers's 19-member board at a conference in Japan. Some praised it as a boon to companies that register and sell the Internet labels.
But the move was criticized by others--including members of the ICANN board itself--for failing to set clear guidelines for the number of new names to be introduced or how they will be phased into use.
"It leaves too much to be decided later," said Esther Dyson, ICANN chairwoman.
The addition of new names is aimed at boosting competition among companies that sell and register domains for Web site owners, and giving customers more names and vendors to choose from.
It would also make it easier for Internet users to search the Web for specific topics. Travel agencies, for example, could use a .travel.
ICANN will begin taking applications from companies that plan to sell and register the new top-level domains, called registrars. Those companies will submit proposals for the new top-level domains, or TLDs, and explain how they will screen and register those seeking to own Web sites with the new suffixes.
Applications will start in August, and by the end of the year, the registrars and their new "dot-somethings" will be chosen. After that, the registrars will sell domain names--which come before the dot--to the public.
The selection process will be debated at ICANN's next meeting in Los Angeles this autumn.
Dyson said the first new Web addresses would start to appear by the end of this year or the beginning of next, but no one will know what the new TLDs will be until November.
"This will remove much of the artificial scarcity on the Web right now," Dyson said.
The Internet now has a limited number of suffixes, including ".com", ".mil", ".int", ".gov", ".org" and ".net", in addition to special two-letter codes assigned to countries, such as ".us" for the United States.
Most country codes were established in the mid-1990s, but no new domain suffixes have been approved since the late 1980s. ICANN was chosen by the U.S. government in 1998 to take over Net-naming duties.