The second great Internet land rush is approaching with the expected rise of the "dot-what?" generation — as in .wtf, .sexy, .beer and more than 1,300 other top-level domains.
Over the next few years, a new set of domain-name extensions will roll out on a regular basis to businesses and the general public, opening the door for URLs such as mountain.bike and denverpost.news.
This influx of so-called generic top-level domains, or gTLDs, is part of a program authorized by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a nonprofit that oversees Web addresses, to "increase competition and choice in the domain-name space."
Web hosting companies, Fortune 500 stalwarts, venture-backed startups and others coughed up at least $185,000 each to secure rights to custom extensions.
Forthcoming domain strings such as .club and .web are set to compete with the dominant .com.
Others will be exclusive, at least initially, to the companies that paid to have them included in the program, like Wal-Mart's .samsclub and Ford Motor Co.'s .ford.
Another slate will target specific industries, such as .attorney and .ski, or social causes, such as .hiv, which will be dedicated to sites that contribute to the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Proponents of the move to drastically increase the number of domain extensions say it'll give entrepreneurs, small businesses and others a better chance at securing shorter and more attractive Web addresses. Roughly two dozen generic domain extensions, including the likes of .net and .org, existed when ICANN authorized the program in 2011.
Ian Saffer, a copyright and trademark lawyer at Kilpatrick Townsend in Denver, said the new extensions are simply another revenue generator for those in the business of selling and assigning Internet addresses.
"It's driven largely by the domain industry — the registrars and registries and other people who make money from the buying and selling and trafficking of domains," Saffer said. "If you're a real estate broker and you run out of real estate, and if you could snap your fingers and make more real estate, you would. Here in the cyber world, that's what has happened."
Registries are the companies that apply for and secure the right to manage a domain extension.
Denver-based Name.com, GoDaddy, Register.com and other consumer-facing businesses serve as registrars, selling URLs to the general public and passing a big cut of the action to registries.
For established companies, the new domain strings will mean additional work to protect brands and trademarks.
"They should be looking at the new top-level domains that are coming out and determining whether they're of interest to them for marketing or whether they want to protect them against cybersquatting," said Saffer, who's watching the .ski launch for a Colorado company. "Businesses and clients are starting to ask us about this and are starting to have us do more work for them, monitoring these rollouts."
ICANN began delegating, or releasing, extensions on a weekly basis late last year. Trademark holders have an exclusive 60-day period to claim their names on those domain strings. There's also a period of about a month reserved for buyers willing to pay a premium for an address. After that, the new domain extension is opened to general consumers who pay the typical rate of $10 to $20 a year for a URL.
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The general sale of the early wave of domain extensions that were delegated in November started a few weeks ago.
For consumers, the new set of gTLDs could make it tougher to separate legitimate websites from the fraudulent, or simply make it harder to remember an address.
But in recent years, top-level domains that were reserved primarily as country codes such as .co and .ly have gained popularity as business sites, particularly among startups, showing that there may be demand for more domain extensions.
"We all went through the dot-com era, the dot-com boom and dot-com bust," said Steve Banfield, senior vice president of registrar services for Rightside, parent company of Name.com. "What you've seen over the last year or two is a real embrace of non-dot-com domains."
Banfield said Name.com, founded in 2003 and based in the Cherry Creek area with about 30 employees, has seen a huge spike in sales in recent weeks with the release of the likes of .shoes, .careers and .guru.
Name.com offers a watchlist feature (at bit.ly/watchTLD) that allows consumers to sign up to receive alerts when a certain extension is available. The company also recently paid to be the official sponsor of the New Zealand bobsled team to get the word out on the new domains.
Some backers of the new gTLDs, such as .CLUB Domains, are holding public auctions of premium URLs on their extensions to drum up interest.
Investors pumped more than $8 million into the Florida-based startup for the sole purpose of securing rights to .club.
"We've certainly spent more than half of that money to get to where we are today," said .CLUB chief marketing officer Jeff Sass.
The company had to outbid others during the ICANN review to become the registry for .club, which Sass says should be attractive to a broad range of businesses and organizations, including sports teams, retail brands, social clubs and others.
The new domain extensions stand out from the old guard because they "actually have meaning," Sass said.
But whether that's enough to put a dent into the dot-com juggernaut is yet to be determined.
"We talk about how long it takes for consumers to change, and certainly it's not overnight," Banfield said. "But how quickly did the generation embrace doing everything on a touchscreen phone?"
Andy Vuong : 303-954-1209, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/andyvuong