Contrary to Internet myth, "ICANN" is not derived from the ancient Norse word for "asshat," though you might be forgiven for believing that. It stands for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and it is the source of both great scorn and great amusement, depending on which side of the table you're on. (Me, I'm under the table, laughing my asshat off.)
For the last few years ICANN has been cooking up a plan to blow the lid off the supply of top-level domains, adding hundreds of new TLDs to the current roster of 22, which already includes domains like .aero, .music, .coop, and a dozen others nobody ever uses. Because of that brainchild, ICANN is in the news again today, thanks to high-profile folks who are balking at Amazon's attempts to own the yet-to-be-approved .book domain.
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For those of you who haven't been following the twists and turns of this saga, here's some background. Last April, ICANN received more than 1,900 applications -- and in excess of $350 million in application fees -- from 1,100 companies seeking to buy their own little corners of the InterWebs. There were so many applications that ICANN was flummoxed on how to deal with them, so it came up with a variety of increasingly ludicrous schemes. Last December, ICANN settled on a bingo drawing (yes, bingo) to determine the order in which each application was considered. Even if ICANN sticks to its schedule of processing 20 applications a week, it will still take nearly two years to get through all of them.
Among the most aggressive bidders were Google and Amazon, which seek to control dozens of proposed new domains like .app, .cloud, .author, .play, and .book.
Amazon vs. the literary world
Not surprisingly, much of the book-loving public -- including competitors like Barnes & Noble, publishers, and book authors -- doesn't relish a world where Amazon owns every domain that ends in .book or .author. Authors Guild president and perennial best-seller Scott Turow wrote a letter to ICANN last week claiming that Amazon's virtual land grab offers a limitless potential for abuse.
For Turow, at least, Amazon is not presumed innocent (ba dum bum).
In ICANN's defense, there are a few reasonable arguments for expanding the current pool of domains. First, the Net has long needed TLDs for international organizations where English is not the primary language. This is why the first 100 or so domains in consideration are in Kanji, Cyrillic, Arabic, and other non-Latin alphabets.
Second, it's getting increasingly hard to find a dot-com address that hasn't been registered yet by someone -- usually a domain squatter, though addresses in the other 21 current TLDs are still relatively plentiful. In theory, at least, the new TLDs would create a virtually infinite new pool of common Internet addresses.