A massive overhaul of internet domain names takes place this week, which will unlock the market dominance of a handful of multibillion-dollar technology giants.
At present, there are only 22 generic domain names, not including country codes like .co.uk, with the likes of the Nasdaq-listed groups VeriSign and Neustar running .com and .biz respectively. On Wednesday, that list will go through its biggest ever expansion, with 300 additional domain names from .group to .sex expected – in the past only the occasional .info and .xxx have been added.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), the industry regulator set up by Bill Clinton when he was US President, will also unveil the names and applications of companies looking to own and operate the names. For example, the UK-based technology group CentralNic has applied for 60, including .group, .college and .gay, on behalf of itself and clients, with each application costing $185,000 and running to 200 pages.
The announcement will not necessarily settle who runs each domain, as there could be situations where more than one company has come up with a particular domain name idea. If more than one company is approved, they will have to negotiate among themselves who runs which name – otherwise it goes to auction.
Icann has gone through a six-year process trying to open up the market, running an application process aimed to ensure that companies pitching for names have the capabilities and infrastructure to ensure data protection in the event of disasters or hacking.
CentralNic's chief executive, Ben Crawford, said: "This is about introducing competition and introducing choice. If you have a great website name idea and you check if it's available, you'll find no it's not [there is already a .com version] – people have already bought 100 million .com names. You might be able to buy it from the current owner, but that could cost you $10,000."
A greater range of domain name extensions mean that similarly named companies could be easily differentiated on the internet. "As soon as you Google the name you won't have to click on to the site, you'll know that johnsmith.photography and johnsmith.xxx specialise in different things."