Although Internet domain names may be getting longer or more complex as Web sites creatively squeeze into the crowded “.com” address space, most single-letter names like “a.com” and “b.com” remain unused.
That may soon change as the Internet’s key oversight agency considers lifting restrictions on the simplest of names. In response to requests by companies seeking to extend their brands, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers will chart a course for single-letter Web addresses as early as this weekend, when the ICANN board meets in Vancouver, British Columbia. Those names could start to appear next year.
But the transition won’t be easy _ and it could lead to six-figure sales of this new online real estate, akin to opening New York’s Central Park to development. Names are normally released on a first-come, first-served basis for $10 (Ђ8.53) or less, a policy that favors those who have written programs to automatically and frequently check for a name’s availability. Auctioning names to the highest bidder is one possibility.
ICANN also must decide whether companies need to seek such names individually if they want them across all suffixes, including “.com,” “.info” and “.biz.” Single-letter names under “.com,” “.net” and “.org” were set aside in 1993 as engineers grew concerned about their ability to meet the expected explosion in demand for domain names. They weren’t sure then whether a single database of names could hold millions _ more than 40 million in the case of “.com” today.
Six single-letter names already claimed at the time _ “q.com,” “x.com, “z.com,” “i.net,” “q.net,” and “x.org” _ were allowed to keep their names for the time being. One idea was to create a mechanism for splitting a single database into 26 _ one corresponding to each letter. So instead of storing the domain name for The Associated Press under “.org,” it would go under “a.org.” In other words, “ap.org” would become “ap.a.org.”
Now, engineers have concluded that won’t be necessary. They have seen the address database grow to hold millions of names without trouble, so they are now willing to let go of the single-letter names they had reserved.