Welcome to 2009, when everything you thought you knew about top-level domains gets thrown out with last year’s ICANN code specs. For those of us who grew up with content with domain names that ended with .com, .org, .edu, or even .net, the coming months will spell change with a capital ka-ching.

On June 26, 2009, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will allow anyone to register almost any generic top-level domain. What this means for you and me is that the ordered universe of restricted top-level domains — wherein any domain name must end with an ICANN-certified two, three, or four-letter code — will disappear. Instead, for the right price, Google could apply to create a .goo or even .google top-level domain; Microsoft could create .msft, .msn, .microsoft, or .linuxstinks; or I could raise money for a .trivia or (even better) .geek top-level domain.

In theory, this will remedy the elaborate issues created by people vying for valuable or memorable domain names, particularly those that end in .com. In other words, this will supposedly put an end to cybersquatting, wherein someone buys potentially valuable domain names to sell at a profit, and domain hacks, wherein marketers try to create a memorable domain by subverting the ostensible uses of existing top-level domain codes.

For example, the social bookmarking service del.icio.us somewhat subversively employs the .us country code top-level domain, which is normally reserved for businesses based in the United States. Since del.icio.us is a U.S.-based company, some would not call that a domain hack. However, most of the various video and television Web sites found under the .tv top-level domain are not based on the island of Tuvalu. Nor is a majority of the various music and radio Web sites listed under .fm based in the Federated States of Micronesia. The unrestricted creation of top-level domains will supposedly stem such practices.

Moreover, since top-level domains could soon be almost anything, that means top-level domains will finally encompass everything — at least alphabetically. You see, despite the fact that there are literally hundreds of ICANN-certified top-level domain codes already in use (most of them country codes), when sorted alphabetically, there are only 25 categories. That’s because one letter of the alphabet has never been used to initiate a legitimate top-level domain.


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What is the only letter of the alphabet that is not used to begin a top-level domain — a telling omission that will likely fall to the wayside (for good or ill) once ICANN allows open top-level domain creation in June of 2009?

The un-domained letter is X, which is important because X is probably the most sought-after and controversial letter ever proposed, if not exposed, in any top-level domain.

Despite what you may have heard, only about one percent of Internet content is pornographic, but 10 percent of all Web searches are for adult materials (which is actually a decline from 10 years ago). Put more simply, porn is very popular online, and identifying (and blocking) pornographic Web sites is a major regulatory issue. Thus, the .xxx top-level domain name was suggested as a marker for all porn-centric Web sites — a suggestion ICANN rejected.

The fact that no top-level domains begin with X means that there is no straightforward domain hack to imply a .xxx domain. In fact, only three ICANN-approved top-level domains even contain the letter X: .ax for Finland’s Aland Islands, .cx for Australia’s Christmas Island, and .mx for Mexico. (This excludes the .example reserved test domain in the ICANN spec.) The .cx top-level domain, along with the Czech Republic’s .cz, are often used for (somewhat forced) pornographic domain hacks with most culprits attempting to spell out some vaguely phonetic equivalent of the word sex by ending their domain name with [word]se.cx or [word]se.cz.

Presumably, ICANN’s allowing unrestricted top-level domain creation will put an end to such chicanery, and the .xxx, .sex, .adult, .porn, and other far more explicit top-level domains will soon be upon us. That said, ICANN itself will likely beat everyone else to the punch in creating a top-level domain that begins with the letter X.

ICANN is currently testing several .xn domains. These are internationalized top-level domains that are experimenting with the use of non-ASCII characters in top-level domains — specifically, letters from non-Western alphabets. For example, .xn — 80akhbyknj4f tests Russian Cyrillic characters within domain names, while .xn--zckzah is trying out Japanese characters.

That’s not just some alternate-alphabetic aspiration; it’s a domain-defying dose of top-level Geek Trivia.

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