A global body that charts the course of the internet has voted to allow the creation of new website domain suffixes by private companies, enabling major firms to replace '.com' with their own brand.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposal at a meeting in Singapore, despite fears that opening up new suffixes could cause some confusion.
'This is the biggest change to domain names since the creation of '.com' 26 years ago,' said Theo Hnarakis, chief executive of Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services, a California-based company that provides online branding services.
Under the changes, businesses would no longer be restricted to the list of generic top level domains (gTLDs) that include .com, .net and .org when they apply to register a website address.
Industry observers say global giants such as Apple, Toyota and BMW, to cite examples from various regions, could be in the vanguard of launching websites with their own domain names.
Mr Hnarakis said the companies that will benefit most are 'big brands with a clear marketing and customer education strategy to exploit the name for competitive advantage'.
'Brands need to act now if they want to apply for one of these new domain names as it is not as simple as registering a .com address. It is a complex task that needs thought and investment.'
ICANN board member Sebastien Bachollet, who was in favour of the proposal, said 'some people feel that the new gTLDs will cause confusion'.
But he added: 'I trust we have the tools to ensure the phase of stress will be brief.'