Joe White-Joe White is chief operating officer at Gandi, an Internet domain name registration firm. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Despite the importance of domain names for companies and the extraordinary amount of money many have paid for them, the vast majority of businesses are unprepared for imminent changes to the Internet.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the international body that oversees the structure of the internet, is liberalising the market for domain name extensions – the .com or .net part of a web address – from the beginning of 2010. This means that anyone, in theory, can apply to operate an extension. So alongside .com, .net, and .org, we will see .whateveryoulike.

Historically, companies have considered their domain to be a critical part of their brand identity. Some domains have been sold for millions of dollars – sex.com was reportedly sold for $14 million – and multinational companies often register up to 20,000 different variations of their brand to try and stop opportunists exploiting it.  However, despite this historic investment and interest, the vast majority (two thirds) of businesses are unprepared for imminent changes, according to some research we did a little while ago in conjunction with the Future Laboratory.

This is interesting given that there are real opportunities for companies. It will mean companies can readdress the way they communicate with customers, partners, or investors. We’ve already seen a shift in consumer behaviour where the high-street and virtual world have blended. The growth in blogging and social networking means people have also shifted their identity online. The liberalisation of top level domain names will help to blend the activities of both businesses and consumers with the potential to create a personalised brand experience.