Yesterday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers announced plans to create an undetermined number of new Web name suffixes in addition to the well-worn .com, .edu, etc. The idea is to increase the number of available addresses and to make them more informative by adding such helpful suffixes as .museum, .travel, and of course .sex. Which raises the question: What, if anything, can you tell right now from a Web site's suffix?
It depends on the suffix. Originally, the .com, .org, and .net domains were supposed to be used by businesses, registered nonprofits, and Internet-infrastructure firms, respectively. But the groups that dole out domain names these days don't enforce this convention very strictly. (Posters depicting cockroaches and warning of an infestation of "PHYLOMENESCUS CERBERUS" and referring to www.bugmap.org have appeared recently in major cities. That Web site, it turns out, belongs not to some anti-pest advocacy group, but to the USA cable network. It's an ad for an upcoming TV movie called They Nest. www.bugmap.com goes to the same site, but the .net version seems to be unused.)
Two other suffixes, .gov and .mil, are available only to federal agencies. They are administered by the General Services Administration and Department of Defense, respectively. The .edu suffix is administered by a private firm and is available only to degree-granting institutions of higher education. Some universities have also purchased the .com version of their .edu address--for instance, www.ucla.com leads to the same site as www.ucla.edu. This is presumably to avoid problems like that caused by www.whitehouse.com, a pornographic Web site featuring the "Intern of the Month" that embarrassed staffers at www.whitehouse.gov during the Lewinsky period.
Finally, there is a suffix assigned to every nation and administered at the discretion of each country's government. The .us suffix is administered under federal contract by the University of Southern California and is used primarily to provide Web sites to local and state governments, local libraries, museums, elementary schools, etc. It is also available for businesses that have some connection to the United States, though most U.S. firms use the global .com suffix instead. More enterprising countries, like Tonga (.to) and Cocos (Keeling) Islands (.cc), have decided to sell their domain names to any firm that's willing to pay, regardless of any connection to either nation. Explainer found that www.whitehouse.to has not been purchased, but www.whitehouse.cc has been--though the domain is currently "under construction."
[Explainer's original item was incorrect in its desciption of the .edu and .net addresses, which are reserved, in theory, for Internet infrastructure providers and degree-granting institutions of higher education. Thanks to vigilant readers for pointing out these errors.]