NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The largest-ever expansion of the Internet’s naming system is coming — and the world got its first look at the list of proposed new Web domains on Wednesday.
Get ready for .google, .sex, .wtf and hundreds more.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit organization that manages this piece of the Internet’s infrastructure, has been preparing for this almost-anything-goes domain name expansion for nearly a decade.
Last June, it formally approved the expansion and started planning the application process for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) — the “.com” part of website addresses.
ICANN received 1,930 proposals for new domain names.
The applicant list included several automakers like Fiat, Chrysler and Volkswagen — as well as a few banks including JPMorgan Chase (JPM,Fortune 500) and Barclays. Several tech companies, including Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500), Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), Netflix (NFLX) and AOL (AOL), also submitted applications to turn their brand name into a domain. CNNMoney parent company Time Warner filed an application for .HBO.
The current system has 21 gTLDs — not including geographic domains — like .com, .net and .org. ICANN has added a handful over the past decade, sprinkling in additions like .biz, .info and .xxx. (For a look at how many sites are registered on .com and the other existing gTLDs, click here.)
This new expansion is by far the organization’s biggest move.
“This is a historic day for the Internet and the more than 2 billion people who use it,” ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said during the webcast announcement in London.
“The Internet will be changed forever. We’re standing at the cusp of a new era in online innovation,” he added.
Those in the running have huge sums at stake. Simply submitting an application cost $185,000 per domain — which means ICANN took in more than $350 million from applications alone.
That’s a giant windfall for an organization with an annual budget of just $67 million for 2012, but ICANN says the steep fees are needed to cover the extensive technical and legal reviews it will conduct on each proposal.)
Beckstrom defended the fee in the Q&A portion of the gTLD announcement. “We don’t make that money; we have collected it,” he said. “That’s the estimated cost of processing and of setting aside money for a risk contingency fund.”
He added: “If there is savings, the money would not go into ICANN core operations. The community would decide what to do. It’s been priced at a breakeven.”
He also noted that a “support fund” was available for applicants who couldn’t swing the $185,000 fee.
Will applicants’ heavy investment pay off?
“Personally, I don’t think any string is going to surpass .com in the near term, or even the long term,” says Bhavin Turakhia, founder and CEO of India-based registrar Directi Group. “I wouldn’t completely rule it out, but .com has been around for 27 years. It’s the de facto standard.”
Directi itself applied for a long list of domains, including common words like .online, .bank, .shop and more.
Directi also applied for one of the hottest new domain on the list: .web. It drew seven applications.
“We’re excited about a lot of TLDs on our list, but .web is the most premium one,” Turakhia says. “We expect to have a lot of competition.”
What comes next: Now that the applications have been revealed, the real fun begins.
With domains like .web and .sport, many suitors are expected to battle for the same coveted keyword. If multiple applicants want a single domain and ICANN deems them equally worthy, it’s decision time.
Beckstrom said there were 231 proposed new gTLDs for which at least two applicants applied, involving 751 total applications. Some of the contested names include .app, .baby, .baseball, .blog, .money, .pizza, .web and .vip.
“That is going to be a very long process,” says Adrian Kinderis, CEO of ARI Registry Services. “Reveal day is really just the end of the beginning.”
The applicants can try to negotiate between themselves and come to an agreement — one that will probably involve cash. Otherwise, the name goes to auction. Those tracking the process predict that it could easily cost millions to lock up a coveted domain.
“There are so many variables,” Turakhia says. “The valuation of any TLD depends on not only how you value it, but also on who’s applying for what. Depending on who buys .home, maybe that affects the value of .web.”
Here’s another wrinkle: Even if two keywords aren’t exactly the same, “confusingly similar” domain suffixes are forbidden. For example, if an apple farmers’ union grabs .apples, then iGizmo maker Apple would be blocked permanently from registering .apple.
Finally, anyone is welcome to submit a dispute about any of the applications. During the Q&A session, a reporter from the London-based newspaper The Guardian asked specifically about the “.sucks” application.
“You could see something like theguardian.sucks,” the reporter said, prompting laughs from the audience. He pointed out that a TLD like that could cause problems for brands and individuals, and asked “whether we think that’s a useful addition to the space.”
Beckstrom responded that ICANN “received a wide variety of application types. We expect challenges. We expected all the tools [that ICANN set up for the process] to be uttiized. Some names might be provocative to some, and there are some that don’t appear provocative but someone could have an objection to.”
Delayed timeline: Sorting out all those logistics is going to take months, at a minimum. ICANN currently expects the first new domains to actually go live in “early” 2013; applicants say April or May seems like the soonest possible target.
“As a battle-hardened TLD applicant, I tell people: expect it to take three times as much money and three times as long as you think,” says Stuart Lawley, the CEO of ICM Registry — which fought its way through a long process to launch .xxx in December.
“Every month that .xxx was delayed, it was costing us about another $150,000 in salary and rent,” he said. “It got into the millions. You can imagine [new gTLD applicants] pulling their hair out over these delays. It’s a lot of money without any revenue.”