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ICANN extends Net domain application date -- again

Meantime, some big players, including Go Daddy and Demand Media, are revealing their bets on a world beyond dot-com.

ICANN logo

The Internet's primary governing body -- ICANN -- is struggling to get its act together.

The global organization has again pushed back the deadline for taking applications for new top-level domains -- a process that was put on hold last month after ICANN "received a report of unusual behavior" with the system's software.

This latest wrinkle comes as ICANN is in the midst of its biggest effort ever to expand the domain name landscape to potentially thousands of alternatives beyond .com, .net, and the many other suffixes already available. The new names also have the potential to change the way companies brand themselves on the Web (Nike, for example, could start branding itself as JustDoIt.Nike.)

ICANN had intended to reopen the process yesterday and finalize it during the middle of next week, when it would begin the arduous process of sorting out who gets what URL extensions and which would potentially go to auction.

Now, ICANN says that it's aiming to reopen the application process on May 22, giving people until May 30 to submit their applications.

The effort is leading to a land-rush of sorts, with several companies gunning to win contracts to run the back end for new top-level domains. Under new rules, whoever wins those contracts will also be able to sell names for those new suffixes to consumers.

Demand Media yesterday revealed that in April it invested "$18 million in pursuit of its generic Top Level Domain initiative", although a spokeswoman wouldn't disclose details about which name extensions it's going after. A big chunk of demand's business is running Enom, a domain name registrar that competes with industry leader Go Daddy.

For its part, Go Daddy is making a small bet. Go Daddy's new CEO, Warren Adelman, told me that his company is applying only for three TLDs -- .GoDaddy, and two others he won't disclose until the application process is closed.

While most applicants are not yet known, ICANN last week said it had received 2,091 applications at the time the system was taken offline. One applicant can submit up to 50 applications for specific top-level domains, at a cost of $185,000 each. ICANN has said it had already received about $350 million in fees.

"Frankly, there will be huge questions for ICANN about what it's doing with the money," said Adelman, a former member of the ICANN Affirmation of Commitments Accountability and Transparency Review team.

In its notice about the latest delay, ICANN said it's continuing "to review the extensive database of system logs and system traffic" after taking application system for top level domains (TAS) offline "following a technical glitch that may have allowed some users to see some file names and user names of other users."

It went on:

We have seen no evidence that any TAS user intentionally did anything wrong in order to be able to see other users' information...The large majority of users are unaffected by the glitch. We continue to review the extensive database of system logs and system traffic, and any new and relevant information that emerges from this analysis will be shared with applicants in a timely way.

On Monday, ICANN said that if any applicant wanted to pull out, it would refund the $5,000 application fee on top of the other costs.