Ever wondered why the Internet's top-level domains are restricted to a small palette of suffixes such as .com, .co.uk, .net and .org? That is about to change but don't imagine that everyone is overjoyed.
All going well, from some time next year what people can call their Internet domain will expand to encompass all sorts of other nouns, such as city names (.London), business types (.airlines), and conceptual (.music). Various interesting combinations of these will also be possible, so individuals such as bill.gates might also appear as their own domain. The possibilities seem endless by today's standards.
In the jargon of the Internet technocrats, these are called ‘gTLDs' for ‘generic top-level domains', and will expand from today's 21 to several thousand, just to underline the scale of the change facing trademark holders and Internet users alike.
Who gains and who loses? For once, almost everyone on both counts. Large enterprises face the chore of registering and paying for even more domains if for no other reason than to stop their rivals and pranksters from using anything associated with their company or products. The cost of that will be massive.
Individuals meanwhile, face a period of adjustment and confusion. How to spot a bogus domain from the genuine one? In fact that has never been easy but it will get a whole lot harder in an age when domains are ten-a-penny.
This is all still being argued about among a raft of other security considerations by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the relatively obscure but important global organisation tasked to manage the new gTLDs and the arguments pro and con.
The fundmental problem is that while some of the new gTLDs are probably very useful and appear long-overdue, many others are more of a nuisance that will add cost for little real business benefit.
We blogged on this issue when the eminently useless .eu domain appeared two years ago.
There is one set of businesses that must see the new domains as a money-fest waiting to happen and they are the registrars. Boom times ahead for them.