In a move that surprised many, ICANN, the body that administers, among other things, the Internet's addressing conventions, approved a plan to basically open up the domain system (technically known as generic top-level domains) to all comers (actually all comers with at least $50K to spend). If dot com, dot info, dot net, etc. don't catch your fancy, now you can order up your own top level domain. How about dot stuff? Dot data? Dot jones? If you've got enough cash, it's yours.
If that isn't mind-boggling enough, ICANN is also pondering the use of non-Arabic script in domains as well. Yes, Chinese websites may someday have domains using Chinese characters.
Rationale for this move? It's hard to say. Some pundits suggest that ICANN is just looking for more money, but ICANN is indicating it will have to invest $20 million to implement this new system. Is there huge, pent-up demand for these new top-level domains? It really doesn't appear that way.
As far as implications of this move, this is a tough one to call. Internet domain registries seem generally upbeat, presumably because it gives them more merchandise to sell. At the same time, their public pronouncements talk only generally about how this new policy will "spur creativity." It doesn't seem that anyone knows exactly what is going to happen or how. Possible losers from this move include companies that have amassed tens of thousands of domains in the hope users will navigate to them accidentally and then click on one of the paid links on those pages. These companies need limited domain inventory to make their business models work.
While dot com domains are likely to retain their cachet for some time, as more business web addresses leech into new domains, I will made a prediction of a modest upside for data publishers. Right now, a user can guess many company URL's simply by typing in the company name followed by dot com. As that formula becomes less certain, the need for directional information (i.e. directories) will increase. When it comes to information, confusion and uncertainty create opportunity for those who will take on the task of organizing and simplifying things. Just one more reason why the wild, wild Web has been more beneficial to data publishers than most other media.