COMMENT

Domain Demand

The Ether

31 July 2017

While well-known website extensions such as .com or .org are available to anyone at equal opportunity, other generic top-level domains (or gTLDs in industry jargon) have a manager.

Until 1998, the computer scientist Jonathan B. Postel helmed this alone, working under the auspices of the US government. Today, however, it is overseen by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit governed by an international consortium of academics, government representatives, technical experts, private industry leaders, and public interest advocates.

In an effort to enable the expansion of domain names, ICANN has since 2012 released nearly 2,000 new gTLDs, including .app, .love, .money, .pizza, .sport, and more recently, .art. The initiative involves an application process requiring third parties who wish to own and administer the new extension to pay a non-refundable fee of $185,000, a $5,000 deposit, and if selected, a $25,000 annual fee thereafter. Given the cost, it comes as no surprise that most applications come from commercial entities.

UK Creative Ideas Limited (UKCI) – a company formed by the Russian venture capitalist Ulvi Kasimov – won the right to authorise and distribute the .art domain in May 2016, branding it “a highly desirable” and “exclusive” web domain. Registration for preferred access tokens began on 8 February 2017 and will open to the public in May on a first-come, first-served basis to secure names (lambert.art: $4,032 with a $49.99 per year renewal fee), companies and institutions (disegno.art: $299 plus $18.99 per year), genres (painting.art: unavailable) or words (mad.art: $12,552 plus $49.99 per year).

Although immediate association with the arts and more readily available extensions seem to be the two main benefits of .art, reputable institutions, artists, and brands have already come aboard, including the Louvre, Sotheby’s, Marina Abramović, Stedelijk Museum, Disney, Google, Bank of America, and Beyoncé. Such limitless inclusion begs the question: in the nebulous discipline of the arts, how will UKCI decide how credibility is defined? What are the platform’s mechanisms for enforcing authenticity? So far, it seems the only requisites are personal preference and money. Meanwhile, corporations such as UKCI have spent millions of pounds to purchase and control parts of the internet. Welcome to the cyber real-estate crusade version 2.0.