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Agency OKs 7 New Net Address Suffixes

November 17, 2000|KAREN KAPLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seven new suffixes that promise to revolutionize the way the Internet is used joined the ubiquitous .com Thursday, marking a small but epochal shift in the evolution of the Internet from a computer network for researchers and corporations to a bustling agora of the masses.

After more than three years of sifting through hundreds of possible new addresses, the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers voted to accept .biz, .info, .name, .pro, .museum, .aero and .coop as the newest additions to the Internet landscape.

The decision by Los Angeles-based ICANN, the group that oversees the Net's addressing system, will relieve frantic overcrowding on the Internet. More than 25 million companies, families, individuals and even pets have grabbed their own Internet identities by acquiring addresses ending in .com, .net or .org.

In a deeper sense, however, the additions are the starting point for a new geography of the Internet with a host of suffixes that speak to the odd and various pieces of everyday life.

Just as "dot-com" forever changed the Internet--and the English language--the new suffixes, approved at ICANN's annual meeting in Marina del Rey, are expected to similarly affect the cultural and economic life of cyberspace.

"ICANN is adding new lanes to the information superhighway," said Alan Davidson, staff counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology. "There is a lot of interest in what the rules of the road are going to be for these new areas of the Internet."

By using the .name suffix, individuals will stake personal claims on the Internet without competing against companies or fighting legal battles over trademarks, as has occurred in the crowded .com world.

With .museum, cultural institutions around the world will make their collections more visible on the increasingly crowded--and commercial--global computer network.

Some of the other proposals for the future would essentially set zoning restrictions for big chunks of the Internet. For example, a .kids suffix would be available only for Web sites with kid-friendly content.

A handful of companies have proposed suffixes that would create an official red-light district in cyberspace. Sites with addresses ending in .sex or .xxx would be reserved for adult content. The new suffixes could help families and companies block access to such pornography sites.

The companies that will be responsible for registering Internet addresses with the new suffixes still have to negotiate contracts with ICANN, but they expect to have them up and running by spring. Nearly 50 companies submitted proposals--along with a $50,000 application fee--to introduce new suffixes to the Internet.

After all the kinks are worked out, the ICANN board is expected to approve additional suffixes in the future.

Since 1985, when a Massachusetts computer company claimed the world's first .com, more than 20 million Internet addresses have adopted that ending. An additional 5 million addresses end in .net and .org.

Such staggering numbers could have hardly been imagined when a small group of Internet pioneers created the suffixes. It was long before teenagers used the global computer network to swap songs and entrepreneurs used it to sell dog food.

At the time, the Net was a sparsely populated place set aside for universities, government agencies, military personnel and researchers.

Three decades ago, addresses were simply long strings of numbers, a reflection of the small size of the Internet and the engineering mind-set of the researchers who created it.

Although difficult to remember, the number system worked for more than a decade. A single administrator kept track of all the numbers on a sheet of notebook paper.

But as the number of users climbed into the thousands, the architects of the Internet created a series of suffixes--known officially as generic top-level domains, or gTLDS--to help people find their electronic destinations.

Each domain was created for a specific use. For instance, .com was meant to be used by companies, .net was intended for network providers, and .org for organizations.

Other suffixes were more restrictive, such as .edu for universities, .gov for the federal government and .mil for the U.S. military. And countries are represented online with two-letter suffixes, such as .ca for Canada and .jp for Japan.

Only in the last few years has the system begun to buckle as about 25 million individuals, companies and entrepreneurs have clambered onto the Net, blurring the meanings of the original suffixes.

Among the other suffixes approved Thursday, .info will compete with the dominant .com, while .biz will target electronic commerce firms and others using the Net for financial gain. Addresses ending in .pro will give professionals such as lawyers and doctors a place to practice in cyberspace.

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