The largest-ever expansion of the Internet's naming system is coming -- and the world got its first look at the list of proposed new Web domains on Wednesday.
Get ready for .google, .sex, .wtf and hundreds more.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit organization that manages this piece of the Internet's infrastructure, has been preparing for this almost-anything-goes domain name expansion for nearly a decade.
Last June, it formally approved the expansion and started planning the application process for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) -- the ".com" part of website addresses.
ICANN received 1,930 proposals for new domain names.
The applicant list included several automakers like Fiat, Chrysler and Volkswagen -- as well as a few banks including JPMorgan Chase and Barclays. Several tech companies, including Apple, Google, Netflix and AOL, also submitted applications to turn their brand name into a domain.
Amazon submitted applications for 76 gTLDs, including .read, .store, .music, .fire, .cloud, .news and .pay. Google also played big, applying for 102 new domains.
The current system has 21 gTLDs -- not including geographic domains -- like .com, .net and .org. ICANN has added a handful over the past decade, sprinkling in additions like .biz, .info and .xxx. This new expansion is by far the organization's biggest move.
"This is a historic day for the Internet and the more than 2 billion people who use it," ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said during the webcast announcement in London.
"The Internet will be changed forever. We're standing at the cusp of a new era in online innovation," he added.
Those in the running have huge sums at stake. Simply submitting an application cost $185,000 per domain -- which means ICANN took in more than $350 million from applications alone. (That's a giant windfall for an organization with an annual budget of just $67 million for 2012, but ICANN says the steep fees are needed to cover the extensive technical and legal reviews it will conduct on each proposal.)
Will that investment pay off?
"Personally, I don't think any string is going to surpass .com in the near term, or even the long term," says Bhavin Turakhia, founder and CEO of India-based registrar Directi Group. "I wouldn't completely rule it out, but .com has been around for 27 years. It's the de facto standard."
Directi itself applied for a long list of domains, including common words like .online, .bank, .shop and more.
Directi also applied for one of the hottest new domain on the list: .web. It drew seven applications.
"We're excited about a lot of TLDs on our list, but .web is the most premium one," Turakhia says. "We expect to have a lot of competition."
What comes next: Now that the applications have been revealed, the real fun begins.
With domains like .web and .sport, many suitors are expected to battle for the same coveted keyword. If multiple applicants want a single domain and ICANN deems them equally worthy, it's decision time.
Beckstrom said there were 231 proposed new gTLDs for which at least two applicants applied, involving 751 total applications. Some of the contested names include .app, .baby, .baseball, .blog, .money, .pizza, .web and .vip.
"That is going to be a very long process," says Adrian Kinderis, CEO of ARI Registry Services. "Reveal day is really just the end of the beginning."
The applicants can try to negotiate between themselves and come to an agreement -- one that will probably involve cash. Otherwise, the name goes to auction. Those tracking the process predict that it could easily cost millions to lock up a coveted domain.
"There are so many variables," Turakhia says. "The valuation of any TLD depends on not only how you value it, but also on who's applying for what. Depending on who buys .home, maybe that affects the value of .web."
Here's another wrinkle: Even if two keywords aren't exactly the same, "confusingly similar" domain suffixes are forbidden. For example, if an apple farmers' union grabs .apples, then iGizmo maker Apple would be blocked permanently from registering .apple.
Delayed timeline: Sorting out all those logistics is going to take months, at a minimum. ICANN currently expects the first new domains to actually go live in "early" 2013; applicants say April or May seems like the soonest possible target.
"As a battle-hardened TLD applicant, I tell people: expect it to take three times as much money and three times as long as you think," says Stuart Lawley, the CEO of ICM Registry -- which fought its way through a long process to launch .xxx in December.
"Every month that .xxx was delayed, it was costing us about another $150,000 in salary and rent," he said. "It got into the millions. You can imagine [new gTLD applicants] pulling their hair out over these delays. It's a lot of money without any revenue."
Last week, Google launched two dozen balloons into the skies over New Zealand. The balloons are equipped with wireless technology that beam signals to and from ground stations that connect to local internet infrastructure.