Identity just got more complicated. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has decided to open up top-level domains to most any suffix we can imagine — from .com, .net, .org, .co.uk, etc. to .anything. So there will be an explosion in what we nerdily called the internet namespace.

On the one hand, this means we don’t have to all fight and scrape to grab any brand followed by a .com. But it also means there’ll be a land rush to create and sell every possible combination of words — amazon.store, amazon.book, amazon.everything (and Amazon will be faced with having to buy them all to protect its brand).
We users trying to find things could end up with an exponential rise in confusion as we try to remember more combinations of names: Where is that guy who drones on about media — jarvis.com, jarvis.pundit, jarvis.blather, jarvis.blahblahblah?

Who could win in this? Who always wins these days: Google, of course. I know many people who never bother to type in internet addresses; they find it quicker to just enter a Google search and click from there. All roads lead from Google.

Well, with more confusion in names, we’ll all end up having to search Google more often. That makes search-engine optimization even more critical as sites strive to make sure they are on the top page of search results for any relevant term. I, for example, am proud to be the seventh “jeff” on Google and I’m plotting ways to eliminate the other six. I believe that companies and brands will soon be valued not just on their cash flow and EBITDA but also on their Googlejuice.

The real limitation in namespace has been language. We have taken just about every word and pronounceable syllable in every tongue and already glued them together and tacked them onto a .com. That is why new web 2.0 companies inevitably end up with silly, made-up names these days: Dopplr, Zivity, Flickr. The internet has been killing vowels, syllables, and spaces in our languages. So it would stand to reason that this need no longer happen: Flicker.com can live peaceably beside Flicker.photo, Flicker.snapshots, even Flicker.yahoo.

But no. The truth is that when we depend on search, we will depend more heavily on unique names so those names don’t get lost in searches for common — commodity — words. So we’ll still mangle the language to create names.

Indeed, I predict that we’ll do this not just for our companies but also for our kids. For everybody needs a little SEO these days. If the internet had been around when my children were born, I shouldn’t have given them common names — Jake and Julia — but would have followed legendary rebel-rocker Frank Zappa’s example — he named his children Dwezil and Moon Unit. That way, there’d be no fight over owning DwezilJarvis.com and anyone searching for Dwezils would, I hope, find my offspring at least second on the list. Yes, in world where unique names are valued, Icelanders are screwed.

In the early days of telephones, it was assumed that we’d be bad at remembering numbers, so phone companies in some countries used words to help us recall the first few digits. KNickerbocker 5 500 became 565 500. That quaint system was dropped as phones stopped having letters printed on them and as phone numbers exploded to absurd lengths with the number of devices.

Well now imagine a world in a few weeks when you own a score of devices connected to the internet — phone, computer, TV, refrigerator, car, heating system, security system, game — each with its own unique address. Namespace will implode again. So perhaps we’ll return to the earliest system of names when John who made horseshoes in the blacksmith shop down on the high street became John Smith and that will be the Google search that finds him.

[Commissioned by and crossposted at Comment is Free; discussion underway there.]