Masters of Their Domains

American Web addresses invariably end with one of five suffixes: .com, .org, .net, .gov, or .edu. This summer, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers--the global body that distributes domain names--may lengthen that list. Along with the predictable demands for .biz, .shop, .web, and the like, there have been more provocative suggestions.

In March, John Richard of Essential Information and James Love of the Consumer Project on Technology, both Nader-affiliated organizations, proposed 10 new top-level domains. Among them: .union ("a 'union label' for cyberspace"), .taxpayer (for "taxpayer organizations that would monitor budgets and management practices of governments"), and .sucks. The latter would "facilitate criticism of a firm or organization, such as aol.sucks, wipo.sucks, or even greenpeace.sucks....The domain would also be available for other uses, such as work.sucks, life.sucks or television.sucks." Richard and Love also note that .sucks might "be popular in the marketplace." Whether they're referring to Hoover or to Hustler isn't clear.

The list, alas, is limited by its authors' ideology. They propose a domain for "church groups who organize shareholder suits on issues of conscience," but none for church groups who picket abortion clinics; there is a .ecology, but no .wiseuse. (The proposal does include a .isnotgreen, but that's for environmentalists who want to criticize corporations, not for anti-enviros who'd wear it proudly.) Still, it's easy to extend the idea in further directions, and Love actually hopes that will happen. "These were designed to be somewhat provocative," he says. "We wanted to show that this isn't just a technical decision. You can do more than just have 30 more ways to say .com."

Love also hopes that with more top-level domains available, there will be more room to experiment with ways of distributing names. One domain might hand out Web addresses on a first-come, first-served basis; others might use more complicated rules to discern who deserves a particular word. "I don't like the monoculture approach, where you pick the `one best way' and impose it on everyone else," Love explains. "If there's thousands of top-level domains, there's room for different approaches."

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