At last Al Gore can have resolution that there is now some truth to the incessantly misquoted attribution that he "invented" the Internet. No, Al Gore did not invent the Internet. But with the advent of his .eco domain, he could (in partnership with the Alliance for Climate Protection) lay claim to inventing a "green Internet."

When ICANN announced last October that it would be opening up an application process for creating new domain extensions, the webosphere became very excited (momentarily) about the possibility of verticalizing the internet. That means in addition to the standard three-letter extensions like com, biz, gov, mil, edu, and so on, companies would be allowed to create any domain extension — an "Internet within the Internet" so to speak, focusing on a specific unifying theme or interest.

But then there was head-scratching about what type of community would really need its own url extension. Certainly clever marketers could use it to come up with some viral social media campaigns. Or maybe some religious groups (... dot nun?) But there were two huge limitations:

First, the application costs upwards of $180,000 (and more if you want the country extensions). And secondly, in order for it to be catchy it should probably be limited to 3 letters, and there just weren't that many unifying verticals that could be spelled in three letters. The result, from what I and other bloggers have surmised, is that there is really not a very great need or demand for the extensions.

But one notable exception is the .eco domain. I believe it could bring something to the game in terms of the way we relate to and understand our environment via the digital world. Here's why ...

It is a de facto unifying brand. If the managers of the top level domain play their cards right, .eco could end up being the ".com" of the green space — the most trusted, or credible place to get green information. This would raise the stakes for content creators, retailers and advertisers online IF (and that's a really big if) .eco requires them to play by some environmentally friendly rules which would encourage them to walk their talk.

The rules might include for instance a 1 percent for the planet type deal, where a portion of the domain application fee goes into a nonprofit bucket which is then allocated to worthy green public works around the world. Something to this effect is already in their charter, so that's a good start. Hopefully, Gore would see the benefit of making this transparent via something like a public .eco competition, where the best projects are voted up online. This would be in keeping with his cutting edge participatory media project, Current.tv. 

The second rule should be the use of "green servers." I've blogged a lot about Green IT for good reason. The internet by some estimations is currently responsible for 5 percent of global electricity use. This is largely due to the huge inefficiencies built into the way we design and operate server farms and data exchanges. The Green IT field is growing rapidly, but Al Gore could give it an additional kick by requiring that sites hosted on the .eco extension be EnergyStar certified. 

A third rule, I would suggest, is that there would be some basic "green business" compliance for all companies listed on the domain. There are numerous rating systems in the works (including one I am helping to develop) which give businesses the opportunity to publish their 'greeness' by specific metrics. 

All of this would give the green space something it has needed for a very, very long time — credibility. The 10-year tsunami of greenwashing has hit environmentalism the hardest, as consumers find themselves awash with a sea of conflated and confusing claims which ultimately served to dilute real green values, making "green" in some way almost irrelevant (read my post about the real green movement).

And green CANNOT become irrelevant. We cannot let marketers suck the true value out of "green" in pursuit of the other green — backs. Perhaps the .eco domain can raise the bar just high enough to filter out the green backwash. 

You can visit the dotEco website to get updates. The top level domain application is still in process so it will be several months before individuals can apply to get their .eco domains.

Related posts: 

Can the Internet save the planet?

IBM's smarter planet

The opinions expressed by MNN Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of MNN.com. While we have reviewed their content to make sure it complies with our Terms and Conditions, MNN is not responsible for the accuracy of any of their information.