Over the past few months ICANN — The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — has been rolling out the first of what might eventually be hundreds of new top level domain names. TLDs are the suffixes you type at the end of a web address: .com, .net, .org, and so on. For years there have been 22 generic TLDs, plus country codes, but now ICANN is planning on adding upwards of 1000 new options.
One of those options is .art, and the contention over who’s going to manage it is actually pretty interesting.
10 groups are vying to be in charge of .art, 8 commercial applicants and 2 community applicants. The community applicants are e-flux, a New York-based arts organization, and Dadotart, a subsidiary of DeviantArt created specifically to manage the .art domain.
Who gets to manage a new domain name can actually matter a lot. As DeviantArt points out, whoever’s in charge will be able to set the prices and terms for using a .art address. A managing agency could choose to put particular restrictions on a domain, or to price out certain users from buying a site within a particular top level domain.
e-flux and DeviantArt are both supporting each others’ applications, since, according to e-flux:
Both are committed to develop “.ART” as an authentic Internet address for the arts and represent its community.
DeviantArt has framed the decision it believes has to be made in no uncertain terms in a letter to ICANN:
ICANN has a choice: it can promote the arts or destroy their common identity.
The concerns e-flux and DeviantArt have are definitely worth paying attention to. It isn’t hard to imagine .art domains being made so expensive or being so quickly snatched up that individuals or groups who might make the most of them would be denied access. It happens with much dumber domains.
At the same time, .art (along with .music, and a bunch of the other new TLDs) present a new challenge for overseeing the web. The 22 non-country TLDs that existed until this year were either incredibly general (.com, .net), or restricted to certain clearly delineated purposes (.gov, .edu, .biz). In order to win the .art domain as a community applicant, e-flux or DeviantArt might have to provide the same sort of clearly delineated definition for art.
There’s an argument that that sort of definition of the artistic community is exactly what the art world does. But one of the promises of art online (especially on sites like DeviantArt) is that those who want to be a part of the artistic process can, without being told their work isn’t actually art.
It’s possible that there simply isn’t a satisfying solution to this situation, but that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. At the end of the process, even if one of the community applicants win, would a modern Henry Darger be able to get a .art address?