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THE CUTTING EDGE: FOCUS ON TECHNOLOGY

ICANN May Begin With New Endings

Internet: This week, naming authority is expected to open the door to some new 'dots' for additional domain suffixes.

November 13, 2000|KAREN KAPLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After 3 1/2 years of political wrangling and administrative delay, the ubiquitous "dot-com" is expected to get some company this week at the annual meeting of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit group that oversees the Internet's addressing system.

More than 19 million addresses ending in ".com" have already been snapped up, as have 5 million addresses with the ".net" and ".org" suffixes.

With hundreds of thousands of additional names being created each week, the need to create more Internet real estate is widely recognized.

On Thursday, the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers probably will approve six to 10 new suffixes that will work like the more familiar ".com," ".net" and ".org."

If all goes according to plan, the suffixes--known officially as generic top-level domains, or gTLDs--would become operational by spring. That would instantly multiply the number of potential addresses available for e-mail accounts and Web sites.

The group, known as ICANN, has received 47 applications from companies hoping to introduce more than 100 new suffixes, such as ".ads," ".cash," ".cool," ".inc," ".gay," ".web" and ".xxx".

Despite the recent meltdown of several high-profile electronic commerce Web sites, the most popular would-be suffix is ".biz." Five companies, including Affinity Internet of El Segundo and San Diego-based Abacus America, have applied for the right to register addresses ending in ".biz."

Also popular is the proposed ".kids" suffix. Four companies, including .Kids Domains of Burbank and Blueberry Hill Communications of Palm Desert, submitted applications to operate a ".kids" Internet address registry.

It is technically possible to turn almost any combination of letters into an Internet address suffix.

At the heart of the Internet are 13 so-called root servers that make it possible for Net users to find specific addresses. To create a new gTLD, the administrators of the 13 root servers would have to agree to enter the new suffix into the root, which they will do if ICANN gives them the OK.

The proposed suffixes generally fall into three categories. Some of them would be "special-purpose" suffixes targeting a narrow group of people, such as union members or people working with the World Health Organization.

Another class of suffixes would create new kinds of services. For instance, one proposal would allow people to turn their telephone number into an Internet address. Another proposal would turn a portion of the Net--with addresses ending in ".yp"--into an international yellow pages directory.

But the largest group of proposals is for general-purpose suffixes, like ".com." Some would be widely available, like ".web" and ".biz," while others would be designed for personal use, like ".per" and ".name".

Internet addresses ending in ".kids" would be restricted to kid-friendly content, and addresses with suffixes like ".travel" would be used to designate commercial groups, such as travel agents.

Five ICANN staffers and eight outside advisors helped the group evaluate the applications on technical, legal and financial grounds.

Their lengthy screening process is intended to help ICANN's 19 board members Thursday, when they will decide how many suffixes to add and which ones to add first.

The board has said only that it would approve "a limited number" of new suffixes, and no one--including the ICANN staff--knows how many that might be. Applications that don't make the first cut could still be considered in later rounds.

It's even possible the board could put off a decision on new suffixes altogether. That probably would extend by three more months a process that has already dragged on since 1997, when Internet leaders around the world signed an agreement to add new gTLDs.

Before the loose-knit group of Internet gurus could implement their plan, the Clinton administration stepped in and began the process all over again. That led to the creation of ICANN, which spent a year establishing its legitimacy before it could roll up its sleeves and address the shortage of Internet addresses.

ICANN also is turning its attention to foreign languages as a way of making room for more Internet addresses.

Today, the first day of its four-day meeting in Marina del Rey, the group will focus on the technical challenges of providing Internet addresses in languages that don't use the Roman alphabet. Allowing addresses in Chinese, Japanese or Korean characters would expand the amount of cyber-real estate as well as reflect the global nature of the Internet.

*

Times staff writer Karen Kaplan can be reached at karen.kaplan@latimes.com.

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