By Georgina Prodhan
LONDON (Reuters) - A project to allow companies to set up a website with almost any address has relaunched after a software glitch exposed sensitive details of applications last month, forcing it to shut down.
In the most ambitious expansion of the Internet so far, the body that oversees domain names has now given organisations until May 30 to apply for their own Web address endings - for example .london, .eco or .canon - provided they have a legitimate claim to the domain name and can pay a hefty fee.
The new suffixes should allow companies or communities more control over their online presence and send visitors more directly to part of their sites.
But the process was dogged by controversy even before the embarrassing software bug: many brand owners have felt forced to take part in the expensive project or risk rivals bagging domains that could be mistaken for their own.
It has also raised questions of corporate governance at Icann, the non-profit body that manages the Internet's naming system, since some current and former directors of the body stand to make money out of the explosion of new names.
Chief Executive Rod Beckstrom said Icann now hoped to be ready to publish details of who had applied for what before the U.S. organisation's next major meeting in Prague, which will be his last before he hands over to a new CEO.
"I think the team has done a very professional job of dealing with the situation," he told Reuters by telephone. "Now we're able to move on to the next phase."
The new generic top-level domains will expand the variety of possible Web addresses beyond those currently available, which end in a limited number of suffixes such as .com, .org or .edu. The stated goal is to encourage innovation on the Internet.
Many desirable Web addresses, for example toys.com or sex.com, were sold long ago - sometimes to parties who acquired them for their real-estate value but put no content on the sites - and now sell at auction for millions of dollars.
Icann has tried to prevent such so-called cybersquatting in its latest process, building in safeguards for brand owners that mean applicants have to show they have rights to a trademark, say "Apple", before they can be given .apple.
However, most organisations have chosen to keep quiet about whether they have applied for the new domains, or which so-called strings they have applied for, fearing that rivals might take advantage of the knowledge for their own Web strategies.
Each application costs $185,000 in the first instance, and applicants must actively operate their new domains at an estimated cost of tens of thousands of dollars a year.
At the time the system was taken offline, 1,268 applicants had registered.
(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Rosalind Russell)