A new digital land grab has begun—but only if you have an Arabic, Russian, or Chinese dictionary

The sweet.com taste.com of success.com.
The sweet.com taste.com of success.com.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter
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“Today marks an historic moment, not only for the New gTLD Program, but for the Internet as a whole,” wrote Akram Atallah of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in a blog post last night. ICANN is a body that oversees the domain naming system that enables navigation around the web—it’s how computers know where to go when you type in qz.com.

ICANN is not an organisation given to hyperbole. But Atallah is right to be excited: yesterday, four new generic top level domains (gTLDs)—like the .com in qz.com—went live, substantially expanding the number of available web addresses. This is only the beginning—another 1,400 proposals are waiting in the wings. If ICANN eventually approves even half of them, the web will grow vastly.

Squatters, start your browsers

Until yesterday, there were only 22 gTLDs, all in the Roman script. Now there are 26, and .website, .fish, .discount and .lawyer are also on their way. The four new domains are .онлайн and .сайт (Russian for “online” and “site”), .شبكة (Arabic for “web”) and .游戏 (Chinese for “game”). The new gTLDs present a huge opportunity for speculators—sometimes uncharitably referred to as domain squatters—who register hundreds of domains in the hope that someone, someday, will pay big money for them.

ICANN has taken steps to prevent the most egregious of such cases. To begin with, 629 words and phrases are off limits entirely. These include addresses that could be used for the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Olympics Committee and dozens of obscure intergovernmental bodies such as the International Olive Oil Council. Moreover, registrations for the new gTLDs will open to the public only after a “sunrise period” of at least 30 days, which is reserved for trademark holders to register their domains on new gTLDs. That means Saudi Aramco, for instance, theoretically won’t have to spend years locked in legal battles with some guy who thinks it might be fun to register أرامكو.شبكة.

Creative common nouns

There is no restriction on common nouns, however. That means the Arabic, Russian and Chinese internet are about to create a few new millionaires, if past experience is anything to go by. Consider the case of Scott Day, a watermelon farmer from Oklahoma who in 1997 registered watermelons.com. It occurred to him that he need not stop there, so he registered dozens of common nouns. Today Day runs Digimedia, one of the biggest—and most respected—domain businesses, which owns everything from clinic.com to recipes.com. The cloud service provider Box went from box.net to box.com after a deal with Day.

Potential millionaires don’t even need Day’s imagination to take advantage of a new set of gTLDs. Just ask the folk behind symbolics.com, an unattractive web page containing nothing but advertisements, mostly from unknown web firms. The site’s claim to fame is that it was the first domain name ever registered on the web, in 1985, several months before even IBM or Xerox. The total investment? Nothing; domain names were free until 1995.