Putonghua domain names up for grabs next year

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 4:58am

Hong Kong companies doing business on the mainland must brace for the biggest change ever in e-commerce when hundreds of new domain names are released next year, says the Asian head of the international body governing web names.

For the first time, non-English domain names will be up for grabs to the highest bidder with domains such as the Putonghua equivalent of .com.

There are currently only 22 generic top-level domains (including .com, .org, .edu and .gov) and 280 country codes (such as .hk).

But all this will soon change with more than 1,900 applications for new domains now being assessed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

"For the people in Hong Kong, there will be a lot of choice," said Xiaodong Lee, ICANN's Asia vice-president based in Beijing.

Within the next 12 months, new domains such as .casino and .art will be released and their dollar value is not lost on brick-and-mortar companies that want to grow their online presence.

ICANN said it would prioritise the release of non-English domains to make the web, built with English in mind, a more level playing field. The bulk of non-English domain applications are for Chinese domains.

In Hong Kong, PCCW and MTR have already paid the US$185,000 application fee in a bid to secure their company domain, but that does not guarantee they will get .pccw or .mtr.

ICANN must first evaluate each company's ability to run a domain using criteria such as security, technical expertise and infrastructure.

Most businesses would benefit from new domains, Lee said, but Jonathan Shea, head of the Hong Kong Internet Registration Corporation which oversees all the city's websites, said the new domains might force local businesses to spend more on buying websites.

"They may be a bit disadvantaged because the fees are so high," Shea said. "Users are worried because with more domain names, you may have to register more sites to protect your brand."