The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a non-profit corporation located in Marina Del Rey, California tasked with managing the logistics of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and domain names. Created in September 1998, ICANN took over these duties previously served by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). As recently as September 2006 ICANN renewed its agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) to continue in this capacity.
Every computer than connects to the Internet must have a unique address in order to issue requests and receive information within the Internet. When a user logs on to the Internet, the Internet Service Provider (ISP) assigns an IP address. ISPs are assigned blocks of proprietary IP addresses for their use. The IPs they assign to their customers are pulled from these blocks.
In addition to every computer online having a unique address, every website must also have a unique address. The domain name is only used as a convenience because names are easier for people to remember than a string of numbers, but each name maps back to a specific IP address. In the case of wiseGEEK.com, for example, the IP address is 126.96.36.199. Considering the vast number of Internauts and websites, it becomes clear that ICANN has a formidable job in managing the global coordination of this crucial aspect of the Internet.
Over time new domain hierarchies became necessary to answer demand. Thanks to ICANN, standard .com, .net and .org addresses were joined by extensions .info, .name, .tv and .museum among others. The travel industry got its own hierarchy with .travel, and websites dedicated to employment opportunities could populate the .jobs hierarchy. ICANN also manages IPs assigned to government offices (.gov), military (.mil), and country code hierarchies (e.g. .uk).
ICANN operates through a board of stakeholders who regularly meet to discuss policy development to better serve the needs of the Internet. It coordinates resources from a variety of bodies within ICANN that include the Address Supporting Organization (ASO), the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), and the Country Code Names Supporting Organization (CCNSO). Input also comes from the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC), the Root Server System Advisory Committee (RSSAC), the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), and the Technical Liaison Group (TLG). Each of these bodies within ICANN addresses specific areas required for effective overall management of the global assignment of domain names and IP addresses.