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ICANN president Rod Beckstrom


Coming soon to Internet browsers: Potential new domains such as .vegas, .puppies and .car.

Websites will no longer be limited to endings such as .com or .org, the Internet organization that handles domain name rules announced Monday after years of discussion.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, heralded the change as a huge step forward in the evolution of the online world.

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There are now 22 top-level domains, such as .net and .travel, and .com is the most popular with almost 25.3-billion addresses. There are also 250 country-specific domains, such as .ca and .uk. The move to custom domains will not only change the way businesses and people find and present information online, but will also mean more wrangling for Internet types and businesses.

"This is fundamentally akin to the deregulation of a market that has been tightly controlled since the inception of the public Internet and the founding of the Internet governing body, ICANN," said Byron Holland, president of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, who was at Monday's announcement in Singapore.

"The devil is often in the details, many of which have yet to be defined," Mr. Holland wrote in a blog post after the meeting.

Web browsers will have to hustle to catch up with the revamped generic top-level domains in order to control cookies, packets of data sent between a website and a user's browser, said Ian Goldberg, a computer science professor at Ontario's University of Waterloo.

Browsers must know how many, and which, words specify a domain to ensure a company can send cookies from its site but not for all sites with the same top-level ending, he said.

"If you can just create these willy-nilly, how do the web browsers know what to do?" he said.

At the price of $185,000 per application, the average net user certainly won't be able to create domains. Only 1,000 .you-name-its will be approved each year after a lengthy review, according to ICANN.

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Non-Latin characters, such as Arabic or Chinese, will be allowed in domains for the first time. Alternate languages will likely be a huge expansion area, considering China alone boasted 389-million Internet users in 2009, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Mr. Goldberg also warned of potential security issues resulting from confusingly similar top-level domains.

But ICANN's complex application criteria should prevent this. A history of cyber squatting will eliminate an applicant immediately. Business "diligence" and criminal history will also be investigated before ICANN will consider the proposed domain.

The application fee – which does not guarantee a domain of choice – should also deter squatters and otherwise irresponsible domain creators.

Despite the planned checks against bad behaviour, browsers, ICANN, and buyers will have to co-operate to make sure things run smoothly, Mr. Goldberg said.

On top of the fee, costs to maintain a generic suffix could run well over $1-million, according to John McKeown, an intellectual property lawyer with Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP in Toronto.

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If a company does buy its own .brand, it is under no obligation to register the suffix to outsiders, according to ICANN.

Still, cyber squatters could still be lurking, Mr. McKeown warned, as the number of top-level domains makes new web addresses available, such as "[insert automaker name here]"

"Brand owners in any event should be monitoring what happens on the Internet anyway, because if you allow other people to use your trademarks, your rights can become potentially diluted," he said.

Once all the applications are vetted, ICANN will publish a list on its website so third-parties can complain about any perceived infringement using a formal dispute resolution process.

With files from reporter Jeff Gray

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