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Brave New World

They might not be as important as they were in the days before Google, Facebook and the iPad app; gone might be the days when every internet company's name had '.com' at the end; but the URL - web address - still matters. It's still good to have a good one, and companies still spend a lot of money ensuring no-one else uses URLs that reflect their trademarks. Up until now, that's been reasonably easy, because there's only so many 'top-level domains' - the bit at the end of the address, like .com or .co.uk.

In recent years the number of TLDs has increased a bit, with new ones like .co and .cc. But now the system's being radically opened up. Under proposals just approved by ICAAN, the governing body of the internet, anyone will be able to create their own TLD. So Amazon could register .amazon, and instead of amazon.co.uk you'd visit uk.amazon. The potential is almost limitless - whoever buys .smith will be able to make a fortune selling sub-domains to everyone with that as a surname. Services like Twitter and Tumblr will offer simpler addresses - yournamehere.twitter, for example.

Did we say limitless? Actually, there is one, very important limit: cost. It'll cost a whopping $185,000 to apply for a custom TLD, and another $25,000 a year to maintain it. So this isn't something you're going to buy for your personal blog. Does this mean an even greater division opening up between big companies and regular internet denizens like you and us? Well, yes. But that's the free exchange of ideas for you, we suppose.

The first custom TLDs should start appearing next year.

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