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Dot-specific domain names on way to the Web

Get ready for the biggest real estate boom in a decade. Only this time, it’s digital real estate in trendy new Internet neighborhoods, with names such as .art, .book, and .singles.

The Internet — until now largely confined to just a few domain names, most notably .com — will soon have hundreds of distinct new addresses that will more sharply define the websites in those neighborhoods, making it easier for Internet users to find exactly what they’re looking for.

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The first of the new domains in the Latin alphabet will debut Wednesday, and include .bike, .clothing, .singles, and .plumbing.

“It introduces creativity back into the domain space,” said James Cole, a spokesman for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.

With nearly every popular and easy-to-
remember name taken in existing domains, such as .com and .org., the global organization, which manages Internet addresses, is authorizing so-called “generic top-level domain names,” or gTLDs, to allow businesses and individuals to create millions of memorable online addresses, such as thebible.book, picasso.art, or redsox.boston.

“These names are all very specific, and that was the point,” said Mason Cole, a spokesman for a Bellevue, Wash., company that has spent nearly $57 million applying for the rights to some 307 new domains. “They’re far more specific and relevant than the existing namespace.”

Many of the new names indicate the kind of content browsers would expect to find there, such as .art or .book. Some cover diverse interests with a simple name: .club, for example, could be for nightclubs and their night-owl patrons, or for fan clubs.

“It’s generic, but it means something,” said Colin Campbell, a Florida businessman who is applying for the rights to the .club domain. “It helps with the search itself. If you were actually trying to join a Billy Joel fan club . . . that might direct you to billyjoel.club.”

Campbell hopes to sell .club addresses to social groups around the world for around $20 each.

And for the first time, ICANN is authorizing domain names in alphabets other than the Latin letters used in most Western languages. It has already approved four domains, for example, in Arabic, Chinese, and Cyrillic.

But some critics warn that in a climate where cybercriminals are stealing the private data of millions of consumers, the proliferation of new domains could introduce a whole new arena for fraud.

Jon Leibowitz, a former Federal Trade Commission chairman, said online criminals could use the new domains to create countless fake websites designed to simulate the sites of legitimate businesses.

ICANN has set up safeguards to prevent the fraudulent use of trademarks in the new domains, but Leibowitz worried these protections are inadequate.

For instance, a crook could be prevented from setting up a site called bestbuy.mobile, because Best Buy is a trademark of the well-known electronics retailer. But changing the name to, say, bestbuyz.mobile might pass muster with ICANN’s trademark monitoring system.

“It could create enormous amounts of consumer confusion and lots of opportunities for fraud,” said Leibowitz, now an attorney at Davis Polk & Wardwell in Washington.

Others, though, said the new domains will make the Internet safer.

For example, many popular brands have applied for domains in their own names, which will assure consumers they have arrived at the authentic site of those companies. The German carmaker BMW, for example, has applied for .bmw, and Ford Motor Co. for .ford.

Kevin Murphy, publisher of DomainIncite, an online publication that tracks the industry, said the new domains, “in particular dot-brands, have the potential to eventually reduce fraud on the Internet,” because an Internet searcher who ends up at, say, mustang.ford can be certain he’s at the correct site.

Domain names were created because people hate to memorize numbers. Every computer on the Internet has an address that’s basically a collection of digits. The domain name system is a network of computers that links each numerical address to a memorable name, like bostonglobe.com.

The existing top-level domain names effectively divide the Internet into very general digital neighborhoods, with .com and .net for businesses and general-purpose users, .org for nonprofits, and .gov for government agencies.

There are also unique domains for virtually every nation — .uk for British Net addresses and .cn for China.

About 250 million Internet addresses have been registered, including well over 100 million that end in .com. As a result, nearly every memorable or meaningful .com name has been taken.

In 2012, ICANN began accepting applications from businesses and other organizations that wanted to create new and specialized domains — .cars for automobile buffs, .save for bargain-hunters, .health for fitness fans.

Interested parties had to put up a hefty $185,000 in application fees, and some 1,900 organizations have applied so far. ICANN said it expects to approve about 1,400 of the applications.

Among them: the Vatican, which has applied for .catholic domains in the Latin, Chinese, Arabic, and Cyrillic alphabets.

Boston Globe Media Partners, with the blessing of the Boston city government, has applied for the right to operate the .boston domain.

Jeff Moriarty, the Globe’s vice president for digital products, said the .boston domain is “a way to help organize the local Internet,” by letting businesses and individuals establish a distinctly Bostonian online presence. “We think people have an affinity toward the city of Boston and would want to have domains on it,” said Moriarty, who foresees retailers, restaurants, and other locally based businesses scrambling to buy .boston addresses.

Many other applicants are investors simply looking to rent or sell valuable virtual real estate.

“As a domain investor I’m essentially speculating, so I hope to resell them for profit,” said Braden Pollock, owner of Legal Brand Marketing LLC in Los Angeles.

Pollock has preregistered two Web addresses on domains he expects to be approved soon: dui.lawyer and dui.attorney — addresses that might appeal to someone in need of legal advice.

He said creating Internet domains specifically for lawyers will make it easier for attorneys and clients to find each other.

“This will help bring structure back to the Internet,” said Pollock.

Others disagree.

Elliot Silver, president of Top Notch Domains LLC in Wellesley, a company that buys and sells Internet addresses, argued the new domains will be slow to catch on with most Internet users, who have become conditioned to searching the .com galaxy.

“I prefer to own great assets on .com. People know .com,” Silver said.

Moreover, in an era when a search engine such as Google can produce a pretty good list for browsers within seconds, does the back end of a Web address matter all that much?

A Bostonian looking for a good Chinese meal probably won’t type chinesefood.boston into a browser; he’ll just ask Google for a list of the nearest Chinese restaurants, regardless of their Internet addresses.

But the organization going through all the trouble of introducing hundreds of new domains has no doubt they will not only be more convenient, but popular.

“We want consumers to have a larger bevy of options,” said ICANN’s Cole.

“People are going to adapt to it, and we think they’re going to respond to it pretty well.”

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misidentified the gender of Mason Cole. Cole is a man. Also, an earlier version of this story misstated the occupation of Braden Pollock. Pollock is the owner of Legal Brand Marketing LLC.

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