What is .art? Financiers and Artists Vie for the Power to Define the Domain Name

Categories: Art, Internet

Art or commerce? Somebody may be the judge.
The Internet is about to radically change, and hardly anyone knows it.

Think about it like a phone system: The Internet operates on just a handful of top-level domains (TLDs) -- like .com and .org -- that function like area codes. Right now, the internet needs more of them. And pretty soon it's going to thousands of them: .law, .house, .gay, .soccer, pretty much anything you can think of. But that's not the radical part. See, unlike area codes, TLDs need someone to run them -- and the saga of .art is a microcosm of what that might mean for the artistic community, and for the Internet itself.

Think about this for a second and experience the sensation of your mind boggling: Who operates the Internet? Like, who runs the servers that run this very website you're looking at right now? Ever thought about that?

As it happens, the answer is VeriSign, the company that administers .com and .net, among other TLDs. And up until now, you've never had a reason to give a shit. That's because VeriSign maintains a pretty hands-off approach to administering the Internet, particularly in regard to registering domains -- basically, if you want it, it's not taken and you're willing to pay for it, it's yours. We call that an open registry, and that's pretty much how it's been since the beginning.

This is the Internet right now.
And open registration may be the case for .art or any number of these new TLDs, too -- but it's likely it won't. It'll all depend on ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the U.S. government-assembled bureaucracy for managing the Internet, which will decide -- very soon -- who gets to run them. And some of them are hotly contested. No fewer than 10 bidders have thrown in their hats to run .art, making it the third-most contested new TLD proposed, and at an $185,000 pricetag just to apply for the privilege, it's not hard to imagine the stakes are high.

Some of these companies -- like Donuts, a financing group applying for over 300 TLDs, including .art -- propose to run open registries much like VeriSign. But the thing is, according to ICANN's guidelines on how they'll do the dole, Donuts is not likely to get it -- nor are the other seven strictly commercial applicants. That's because ICANN has pledged to give priority to so-called "community" applicants, organizations by and for members of a specific community, which would in turn be served by its members' ownership of the TLD in question.

In the case of .art, there are two such applicants: e-flux and deviantART (operating as Dadotart, Inc). Both bring vast networks and experience to the table. Both would run closed registries.

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