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ICANN goes native, as new TLDs proliferate

.cat for the Catalans?

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ICANN San Juan 2007 Tuesday brought more on the expansion of the top-level domain (TLD) landscape - namely a discussion of what are referred to somewhat jokingly as geoTLDs. These are really two distinct kinds of TLDs - one for information about cities or purely geographic regions, and another for linguistic and cultural preservation.

As always seems to be the case at ICANN meetings, technical difficulties took front and centre stage. First the microphone was so loud our session was drowning out the session next door, and no one could work the mike and lower the volume. Then - this is pure ICANN - nobody could figure out how to work the projector, even though they had all brought slides.

Two power outages then put the olives in our collective Martini. Illuminated by the screens of our laptops, and without internet access, we soldiered on.

The city TLDs, such as .nyc for New York, are portrayed as a way to organize reference material about a certain place. A representative of .nyc presented it as a kind of urban planning for the internet, allowing a relatively coherent organization of practical information about the city. Instead of, say, doing a Google search for "hotels new york city" and receiving 150,000 hits, or whatever, in theory one could go to .nyc and find the 402 hotels there actually are in New York.

Of course, these organizational concepts have been hijacked in the past by clever marketers, and it's not immediately apparent that the new city or regional codes will avoid a similar fate.

The so-called language and culture domains (lcTLDs) will probably suffer less in that regard, if only because the internet real estate they seek is less valuable and more narrowly defined. Everyone knows New York - not everyone is familiar with Western Sahara. I thought the .eh mouse pad I received in my shwag bag was some kind of inside joke about Canadians, but it turns out to be the regional code for, yes, Western Sahara.

This relatively new kind of TLD is conceived as something of a cultural gap filler between country code TLDs, which are essentially internet recognition of nation states, and standard .org-type not-for-profit organizations. It is in recognition of certain cultures or regions, such as the Catalonia region of Spain, that are not represented at the country code level but still have a distinct language or culture they would like to preserve for themselves in a certain part of the internet.

The .cat is a nice example. It is a TLD devoted to the language and culture of Catalonia, and though American trademark lawyers might snivel about its similarity to an American tractor trade name, it seems like a worthy development, especially with the internationalized domain names on the way. The Catalans were here first. Let them have it.

Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office

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