We all know about vanity domain names - www dot yourname here dot com, org, net, info, or otherwise. The Internet authority that oversees domain names is about to let you get a little more top-heavy with your vanity, if you have deep enough pockets.
ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has voted to (TLDs), which form the right-most part of a domain name, like .com, .uk, or .aero. The original TLDs included .gov, .com, and .org, and expanded to include all two-letter country codes, such as .au for Australia and .nu for the island nation of Niue. (If you look at "www.tidbits.com", .com is the TLD, tidbits is the domain name registered in the .com hierarchy, and www is the local host name that defines a real or virtual server.)
For $100,000 to $500,000, a company or an individual could apply for a TLD. Many years ago, when I worked at Amazon.com, I saw that TLD proposals were underway, and I suggested Amazon sponsor .book so that an ISBN number plus .book would result in a search result on the site. That wasn't possible then, it turned out, but would be possible under this new regime.
Names could be turned down in a first-pass review if they were offensive, violated trademarks, or were too similar to an existing TLD (.con for grifters, perhaps? :-)). There's little information now about how two companies that want the same generic TLD, like .book, would work that out. Bidding? First-come, first-serve? Shared delegated authority? These details are expected to be worked out between now and about April 2009. The is unfortunately quite bureaucratic and technical in discussing this issue.
Is this change necessary? Hard to say. It can be quite difficult to find the appropriate domain name for your business, non-profit organization, social site, or personal domain because of the exhaustion of generic words, and the vast growth in the use of sites to pull in advertising dollars through Google AdSense and affiliate program referrals. Opening up new TLDs could allow ISPs and other organizations to build a little more wiggle room.
For instance, a soccer organization could register .soccer, and then work with a registrar to allow both fans and teams to have domains underneath that. The related problem, though, is that companies controlling TLDs that have a relationship to their product might be more ready to yank domain names that have content or engage in behavior they disagree with. That might run counter to the rules that ICANN requires for domain name handling.
I could also see some interesting cooperative work emerge. Say 5,000 Mac users wanted to register .fanboy - to take back the pejorative - and were willing to pony up $20 each, if the TLD cost were $100,000. That's certainly do-able.
The proposal will also allow the creation of TLDs that don't use English. Domain names and TLDs currently are limited to a through z, and 0 through 9; domain names can also include one or more hyphens. An obscure system currently allows a kind of mapping for non-English characters and letters, and ICANN has been working on a way to allow a more straightforward encoding method. They started testing this in October 2007. (See "," 2007-10-12.)
Part of the new TLD proposal would allow countries to request their two-letter code in characters from their native language or languages. The final report on that proposal. A  was released on 24-Jun-08.
The real question, of course, is how long it takes our fearless leader here at TidBITS to put together enough pennies for .bits.