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NEW INTERNET DOMAIN LAUNCHED FOR MUSEUMS

A recent meeting of the International Council of Museums (ICOM, www.icom.org) held in Barcelona may eventually define the future of museums on the Internet. On June 30, the organization launched .museum, a new top-level domain (TLD) that promises to provide museums around the world with a distinct and unified online identity. In the near future, .museum may well replace the familiar domain suffix .org, currently used by most museums, or .com, as the museum domain of choice.

The new domain has been proposed by MuseDoma (www.musedoma.org), a nonprofit organization created by ICOM in cooperation with the J. Paul Getty Trust. Last November, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) selected .museum—as well as .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .name and .pro—from over forty applicants, each of whom paid a nonrefundable $50,000 fee to have their domain names considered. Among those turned down were the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in Brussels, which proposed .union, and Name.Space (www.namespace.org), run by Paul Garrin, an artist and founding member of the online discussion forum nettime (www.nettime.org). Garrin, who started Name.Space in 1996 in the hope of combatting the monopolization of access to the Internet by powerful government and private entities, insists that Name.Space has already published .museum as well as .pro and .info, and claims Helsinki’s Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art (www.kiasma.fi) as a member, along with six other sites.

In the wake of these conflicts, MuseDoma has attempted to maintain an open discussion about how to manage the new TLD. Membership will be restricted to “bona fide” museums, that is, only those institutions that can comply with ICOM’s definition of a museum. This definition was expanded recently to include virtual museums. While depending on ICOM’s regulations, MuseDoma stresses that membership in the NGO is not a prerequisite for using the new domain name. It seems likely that ICOM’s 15,000 current members will join; MuseDoma, however, expects over 40,000 worldwide to use .museum and has received about 1,500 requests so far. Membership fees may be waived for certain museums, and funds may be allocated to get other collections online. The details of these plans have yet to be finalized.

For now, preliminary requests are being accepted by MuseDoma, which is attempting to take advantage of the recent ICOM meeting to spread the word about the new domain. Several commercial agencies have also started offering preregistration services for a fee, though MuseDoma insists that such applications will not receive preferential treatment once the actual registration process begins. Interested parties can find official information about the .museum registration process at www.musedoma.org/name_requests or by e-mailing request.form@musedoma.org.

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