With ICANNs New gTLD Program to commence January 2012, the doors will be thrown wide open and virtually any word can become a gTLD if the company or organization meets certain criteria:
-They can pony up the hefty application fee ($185,000)
-They can prove they can afford to run a gTLD year after year
-They can justify why they should own a particular word as a gTLD — e.g. a travel company is unlikely to be successful at justifying buying ".Apple" as a gTLD but they can justify buying ".travel"
From a marketer's perspective (and their agencies): Here's the bad news. If you're at a Fortune 300 company, it is likely your IT/ legal department will advise you to purchase multiple (possibly a dozen) gTLDs.
Now even if you manage to avoid getting hit directly with that cost (for now), you will still have to spend a hefty chuck trying to figure out what to do with these new "marketing assets."
It's far too strong to call this "One of the Biggest Changes on the Internet in a Decade." It's a way for ICANN and the registrars to milk more money from large corporations.
A domain name has very little value unless it is used in marketing campaigns -- it's the marketing that creates the value -- not the domain name.
(There is value in small numbers of high profile .com names, but that value disappears with other TLDs.)
Also, Google is favoring large brands in its search results, so it's already discounting other TLDs that belong to squatters or small businesses, in its search results. That means there's little value in terms of SEO, and the parsing of keywords in domain names, as there used to be.
But corporate legal departments always bank on the side of caution so it's understandable that they would recommend buying other TLDs to prevent competitors, and also scammers/spammers attempting to hoodwink consumers with look-alike names. But that consumer problem exists today without the new TLDs and is solvable through browser warnings.
Ms. Shapiro is helping to organize a free conference November 1, in NYC, to help brands understand the coming changes, info is here: CADNA - What is at stake?