The internet is about to get a lot more complicated, with hundreds or thousands of new domain-name suffixes joining the familiar .com, .gov, .edu and others.
Within the next year, "internet address names will be able to end with almost any word in any language," according to a statement Monday from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, "offering organizations around the world the opportunity to market their brand, products, community or cause in new and innovative ways."
ICANN's board of directors has been debating opening up the current slate of 22 approved "generic top-level domains" for years. The board voted 13-to-1 in favor of the historic change at a meeting Monday in Singapore. Two board members abstained.
There's no word yet on what effect this will have on federal websites.
Federal Chief Performance Office Jeffrey Zients ordered a freeze on all new government websites last week, saying the hodgepodge of more than 20,000 federal sites was costing the government too much money and diluting its brand.
It's conceivable the federal government would consider sponsoring a secondary domain name ending for sites it considers important but tangential to its main mission. Some states, which currently use the .gov domain ending with a separate signifier such as .ny.gov or .ca.gov, may choose to simplify their names.
There's been no serious policy discussion about the new domain suffixes at the General Services Administration, which approves new government websites, a GSA spokesman said. Emails to the Office of Management and Budget, which manages the government's larger web policy, were not immediately returned Monday.
Advocates for the new naming convention say it will allow cities, companies and other entities to express themselves more easily online and to clarify what is and isn't official information. Critics say it will return the web to its early Wild West days when enterprising techies scooped up high-value domain names at bargain prices then resold them at massive profits.
ICANN has tried to stave off such a top-level domain rush in part by imposing a hefty $185,000 application fee for new domain suffixes, the Wall Street Journal reported.