The program, approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) last year, is scheduled to start rolling out the new addresses this fall.
On Wednesday morning, the group announced that it had passed the “last contractual hurdle” in its plan — a new registry process that sets up protocols for taking down sites that may use the new addresses to infringe on copyright and requires anyone who runs the new domains to have a clear point of contact for handling complaints.
Still, while some such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are upbeat about what branding potential the new program provides, some Internet infrastructure experts have raised concerns that networks are not currently prepared to support the sudden influx of new Web addresses. They have asked ICANN to slow down the rollout.
In a chat with The Washington Post, ICANN chief executive Fadi Chehade said that the program will be rolled out in phases, and that the group will delay full implementation if it becomes necessary.
He also detailed the top three things he thinks the average Web users should know about the new program:
1) It will have addresses in other scripts: This may be hard for many English-speakers to understand, but this is a pretty big deal for the rest of the world.
“It gives them a key to a door they couldn’t get to before,” Chehade said.
Right now, he said, for the majority of the world’s population the Web is place where all the street signs are written in a foreign alphabet. The new program will allow for addresses in languages such as Arabic or Chinese, which opens the Web up to many people who do not know how to type in English.
2) It can build communities: There’s been some worry that having so many domain names will fracture the Web, but Chehade said that dedicated spaces can also help build digital communities for socializing, organizing and advocacy.
“People like to have a brand,” he said. “It’s a very subtle way to come together. Now they have now a mechanism to do that.”
For example, he said, his wife asks him “every day” about the .green domain name, even though there are already plenty of places on the Web where she could go to inform the world about helping the environment. But he said, she feels that she can really craft a narrative with a dedicated domain name.
“She wants to work with them to build things there,” he said. “We like stories. We like to say this is a space dedicated to causes.”
3) It can send signals: Chehade also said that the new domain names can be used to send clear signals about what content Web sites have. For example, he noted, new domains could help parents review which Web sites that may be appropriate for their children.
“With children, it can give some good guardrails to indicate that the content is okay if it’s in this top level domain or these top level domains,” Chehade said.
He did acknowledge that having specific domain names could create “too many walled gardens” online — particularly if a workplace or even a country decides to censor a given domain name. But if that happens, he said, the new top-level domains also mean that there will be more places to move if that happens.
“The flip is that even if we censor this room, we also give them a million other rooms to go through. That’s a good thing,” he said.
He said that he’s not sure where the new program will take the Web, but stressed that he believes ICANN needs to remain neutral throughout the process and leave the changes up to the Internet community at large.
“What we’re giving them is a highway,” he said. “They determine what trips they take.”