I've been wondering for a long time: Who's in charge of the internet? As a web designer, I'm familiar with the process for getting sites up on the web - but it always involves paying someone for a domain name. If I want to put up content at ManeAttractionsSalon.com (new from ABC Innovations!), I have to buy it first. But what gives Network Solutions the right to sell me a domain? What if someone in Germany wanted it - what stops their companies from selling it to them? Is there a big international organization for the web? Who prevents me from getting a ".gov" address? Thus began my research.
Amusingly, the most information available about the internet is available...well, on the internet. Here's what I've been able to gather: The United States government used to own the internet. Yes, seriously. We invented it (along with everything else, see: electricity, airplanes), and so we were in charge. During the end of the Clinton years, that became privatized, and we put a company in charge of sorting out what's what online.
Enter ICANN. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, headquartered in California, literally has lists of all internet locations (stored as numbers, or IP addresses) and their corresponding domain names, if registered. If you want to sell domain names, it's gotta go through ICANN. And you can become a domain registrar (someone who sells) - just apply, at $3,500 per application, non-refundable. And I thought colleges were bad, asking me for $50 to process my Common App.
In recent history, ICANN's been in the tech news quite a bit. In February 2011, they announced that they'd distributed the last batch of IPv4 addresses. IPv4 was, more or less, a number system for keeping track of which devices were accessing the internet. At it's creation, it was planned to support 4.3 billion devices...but we've actually managed to max it out. So IPv6 is coming along with a little greater support - 2^128 devices. That number has a lot of zeros. A lot.
It gets worse - they're allowing non-Latin characters. So watch out for websites with Chinese and Hebrew URLs - we won't even know how to access them. All this, in my mind, is good news for search engines like Google. If you're looking for an international site, you'll need help getting there. No more just guessing "company-name.com".
The bottom line: ICANN runs the internet. The internet's expanding. Sites of the future could look like "lol.cat". And I can't afford to become my own domain registrar. Yet. One day though, one day. Then, every time someone creates a website, they'll pay me to file some paperwork with ICANN. They'll pay me a lot of money to file some paperwork with ICANN. It's probably not even paperwork. That's so 20th-century.