In December, the Internet underwent a dramatic change. After extensive debate, .XXX websites debuted, facilitating the spread of even more pornographic content on the Web and forcing well-known celebrities and companies to shell out thousands of dollars to protect their identities from being associated with .XXX.
A similar but more sweeping Internet transformation is currently underway: the creation of the “Dot-Anything World.” April 12th is the deadline for applications to be submitted for domain names ending in something other than .com, .edu, .org, etc. — in other words, all the “dots” with which we’re familiar. In the months to come, we may see .family, .food, .NYC — maybe even Yankees.baseball. We will also see addresses in Chinese, Arabic and Cyrillic. The options are virtually infinite. While these changes won’t take effect until 2013, it’s important to attempt to “connect the dots” as we prepare ourselves now for this new and exciting phase of the Internet Age.
These changes are necessary because the Internet is running out of real estate. Maintaining the status quo would mean that new businesses, organizations and individuals who want to launch websites would have to come up with domain names that might not reflect their sites’ content.
It’s unclear how different the Internet will be in the Dot-Anything World, but the expectation is that it will be easier for people to find sites that are relevant to specific searches. For example, if you’re looking for hotels in Paris, you could restrict your search to sites ending in .Paris or maybe visit a website called www.paris.hotels. And with domain names in alphabets other than ASCII, people whose native language does not use our alphabet will be able to use domains that are in their native tongue.
However, the Dot-Anything World may also render the Internet a more challenging place for parents. Parents already have a difficult time protecting their children from adult material on the Web. We will almost certainly see extensions with .sex and .porn multiplying the amount of pornographic content on the Internet. But the additional transparency in domain names may make it easier to steer clear of objectionable content and to gravitate towards more family-friendly sites.
In the Dot-Anything World, we may see some business developed — say a .family effort where all the domains registered in that extension must agree to a certain standard for family-friendly content. Using an extension like that — coupled with parental controls offered by companies like Microsoft and others — you could restrict a child’s browsing to sites in that extension, thereby protecting that child from inappropriate material.
The new Internet world that awaits us will be discombobulating at first, but I have high hopes that we will all ultimately agree the changes are good.
Jim Prendergast is the senior policy adviser for PurityNames.com, the only domain registrar that refuses to profit from pornography.