Fancy a .shop domain name? How about .ltd, .inc, or even .xxx?
Thought all these names were rejected by ICANN and would never see the light of day?
These four top-level domain names (TLDs) and 25 others are available today for a registration fee of $25 (U.S.) per year. Head over to New.net to check it out.
So how did an unknown startup called New.net quickly launch all these new TLDs when ICANN has been struggling for years to increase the pool of global domain names?
They sidestepped ICANN altogether.
To understand how, let's look at what happens to a domain name after you type it into your browser window.
When you type a URL into your browser, that information is sent to your Internet service provider (ISP). Each ISP has a server called a name server, which converts the name you enter into a numerical IP address of a Web server on the Internet -- http://22.214.171.124, for example.
Most name servers today are only capable of translating TLDs sanctioned by ICANN. In other words, they use the ICANN domain root.
For New.net to invent TLDs without going through ICANN, it had to invent its own root and find ways of directing people to it.
The company achieved this in two ways.
First, New.net offers a downloadable plug-in that allows end users to access these new TLDs directly. This plug-in works by appending "new.net" to all domain names you type into your browser, thus redirecting traffic through the New.net system.
You can try this out without downloading the software. For instance, type http://www.pie.shop.new.net into your browser and see where you end up.
Second, ISPs are encouraged to modify their name server software so New.net name servers will take precedence over ICANN name servers.
If your ISP implements these changes, all New.net domain names will be automatically available to you.
Some large ISPs have already modified their software. These include EarthLink, @Home and NetZero.
New.net has a plan for making its top-level domains available to as many people as possible. Indeed, the company claims an audience of 65 million users, which is certainly a healthy number to have gained in so short a time.
But unless these TLDs are accessible to Internet surfers worldwide, site owners won't launch new businesses using them.
Online businesses face enough challenges without having to worry whether users can access their sites. For all ICANN's faults -- and it has many -- you can be sure that when you use a .com, .net or .org address, your site will be accessible to each and every Web surfer on the planet.
So Web site developers won't develop New.net sites until everyone has access to them. But surfers won't download the plug-ins until New.net has sites worth visiting. It's a classic Catch-22.
There are other problems with New.net's names. They don't work with e-mail addresses and they aren't currently accessible from behind proxy servers. They also cannot be submitted to search engines.
Unless these issues can be sorted out, New.net will never get site owners and businesses to hop on board. Without this support, New.net will quickly become extinct.net.
It's clear a real demand for new domain names exists, but it's much less clear whether New.net has met the demand in the right way. Only time and market forces will tell.
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