A blast from the past on new gTLDs

21 August 2007
By Kieren McCarthy

As anyone reading this will hopefully be aware, starting next year there will be a more consistent and relaxed mechanism for adding new gTLDs to the Internet. Which leads to an inevitable and interesting question: what new generic top-level domains would be useful and/or successful as the Internet continues to evolve?

I have been pondering this on and off for a few months and keep coming up with fairly obvious ones: .blog, .news, .coffee, .google and so on. The trick for a new gTLD would have to be that it offers something that people instinctively feel is worth more than a dotcom. In that sense, the ongoing efforts to get “.berlin” introduced should prove interesting.

Anyway, on a rambling online trawl through the history of the Net and of ICANN’s formation, I came across something interesting.

Ad Hoc

Old hands will recall the IAHC, the Internet Ad Hoc Committee, formed in 1996. The IAHC basically tried to start creating order pre-ICANN on the introduction and control of new top-level domains on the Internet. All the big names were involved: ISOC, IANA, ITU, WIPO.

The end result was a final report, still available online here, which I believe I am right in saying ended up forming the foundation for the creation of new gTLDs under ICANN. I believe I am also right in saying – although I’m certain it will swiftly be pointed out that this assertion is incorrect or, at least, over-simplified – that the plan was ditched because the system was seen as putting the ITU in charge and that was too rich for some because of the history of the ITU and the technical community.

But what is intriguing – and a bit of a blast from the past – were the seven new gTLDs that the report decided should be added to the Net first. One of the seven now exists, but what were the others?

The Magnificent Seven

They were:

  • .firm: for businesses, or firms
  • .store: for businesses offering goods to purchase
  • .web: for entities emphasizing activities related to the WWW
  • .arts: for entities emphasizing cultural and entertainment activities
  • .rec: for entities emphasizing recreation/entertainment activities
  • .info: for entities providing information services
  • .nom: for those wishing individual or personal nomenclature

This list is interesting for a number of reasons. For one, it is striking that the new gTLDs first approved follow the same pattern as outlined in the report, but without the actual same strings being approved. For example, in the first round, announced November 2000, there were also seven new TLDs.

The .firm and possibly .store TLDs were dealt with through the .biz TLD. The .web TLD has had a long and chequered history and just didn’t happen. The .arts became .museum; .rec was presumably left to dotcom because of the dotcom boom; .info was approved; and .nom (the only TLD that was not patently English) became .name (which patently is). Which left the TLDs that still seem unusual today: .aero, .coop and .pro. It is intriguing that expansion of the Internet was viewed then as an attempt to reflect society in a very sociological, almost paternal, manner: we have business, we have culture, recreation and then personal space.

The next round of approvals in the gTLD space (March 2004) were sponsored, implying an effort to get away from the massive boon in the commercial nature of the Internet, but even so they reflected a commercial edge: .jobs, .mobi, .tel, .travel. There came appreciation of the global nature of the Internet with the approval of .asia and .cat. And the thorny issue of one of the Net’s biggest benefactors – pornography – came in the form of the (rejected) .xxx top-level domain.

What next?

Which leads back to the question: what is the Internet of 2008 going to throw up?

Are we truly in the era of MySpace, Facebook and social networking? Will the enormous commercial growth of the Internet burst through with new gTLDs? Will the increasingly difficult problems of fraud and cybersquatting find new outlets?

There is the enormous issue of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) that will soon provide the means by which people can produce domains in characters other than English letters, but in the meantime, has the nature of the Net changed so much that there is now space for, say, French or Spanish-style TLDs? .fam, .gastro, .politic?

Or will we manage to find our way back to the concept of the Internet as an informational and cultural resource of great human value? What did happen to .arts?

What do you think?


Kieren McCarthy