With no major initiatives on the table, the upcoming meeting of the world's controversial Internet naming authority is likely to focus on new registries such as ".name" that are looking to upstage ".com".
Icann, which meets in Sweden's Stockholm this weekend for its quarterly conference, chose seven companies to operate parts of the master list of domain names last November.
Each will have the right to sell names with new suffixes: ".name", ".biz", ".info", ".museum", ".pro", ".coop" and ".aero" in order to create more choice alongside the current trio of generic domains ending with ".com", ".net" and ".org."
Global Name Registry, the tiny Internet upstart behind the .name registry, is expected to reap millions of dollars from handing out domain names to individuals, and which plans to use that cash to become the electronic world's main identity tool.
"Your name could become your cell phone number," says Andrew Tsai, chief executive of the 40-employee Global Name Registry.
Not only will a person's name become his email address and Web page, but a single name and password should also be enough to transfer money and pay for online purchases on electronic devices from a PC to a handheld computer and a mobile phone.
It may sound like a welcome initiative that will allow people to get rid of bucket loads of passwords, but some argue that it is a lot of power for a small outfit that is set to obtain an exclusive right to sell a person's own name.
It also puts the spotlight on the controversial Internet organisation, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), which gives companies like Global Name the opportunity to squeeze an annual $5.25 from a person named John Smith for letting him have "john.smith.name".
"This is a decision of immense consequence. [Global Name] will be given the right to this huge source of information that it can leverage for other businesses," says Jon Weinberg, professor of law at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, and member of Icannwatch, a group that tracks Icann.
Consider the marketing potential if one company owned all the world's mailing lists and phone directories. Global Name has a long way to go to realize that dream, but it's been given a good headstart with the rights to the .name suffix.
Rather than one company receiving a licence to sell one particular collection of domain names, Icannwatch would have preferred to see competition among rivals to sign up subscribers for .name and the other new domains.
"These are the bad consequences of a bad decision," Weinberg says.
Icann, which was put in place by a US government task force in 1998, has already signed definitive contracts with two companies and is expected to finalise two more exclusive deals around the Stockholm meeting, one of which is Global Name.
How many names it expects to sell through dozens of affiliated registrars, Global Name does not disclose, but it could easily run into many millions. In fact, it expects such a run for unique personal names that it will organize up to ten cyber "land rushes", starting this summer.
Each land rush will last two weeks during which individuals can request to register their domain name, consisting of two parts (usually first and last name) plus the suffix ".name".
If two or more individuals in the same land rush claim the right to an identical domain name, Global Name will randomly choose one.
The right to register a name will cost more than the $5.25 a year Global Name is asking, because the company will use some 80 resellers, so-called registrars, who will add their own profit margin and may charge annual subscription fees of some $30.
However, some banks or telecoms operators may subsidise a person's domain name in an attempt to buy customer loyalty.
Global Name realises only too well it will have the right to sell a unique asset. "Your name is emotional. It is personal. That's why there's so much excitement," Tsai says. It is also an easy business model to understand, he adds.
"It is very favourable from the perspective of our business partners," Tsai says.
London-based Global Name Registry, the only of the seven new Registries to be based outside the United States, is a spin-off of Norway-based free email service Nameplanet.com and is backed by venture capitalists Carlyle Europe Venture Partners, Four Seasons Ventures and Northzone Ventures.
Despite the advantage of having potential access to a huge pool of personal identities, Global Name is not alone in its aim to set the standard for digital IDs.
US-based software giant Microsoft claims it has collected some 160 million personal profiles through its Web-based email service Hotmail. It intends to use these profiles, dubbed Passports, to unlock a host of e-services.
Expect these and other technology companies such as AOL Time Warner, with its own vast membership base, to start hunting for partners that will give them access to services and technology to establish their place in this lucrative market.
"Digital IDs will become a big story in the next 12 months," Tsai predicts.
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