Actually Thad, this is radically different from all new TLDs that have come before - that's why it's worth having a conference about.
There are several types of top-level domains. There are the g or generic top-level domains, and the s, or sponsored top-level domain. Dot-com, dot-org etc. There are 21 of these. And most have been formed in two restricted rounds run by ICANN in 2000 and 2004.
And then there are the country-code or cc top-level domains. Every country in the world is allocated one according to a international standard. It's what gives Germany its dot-de and Libya it's dot-ly. They are always two-letters and they are pre-defined.
And finally there are some very new IDN ccTLDs - which are typically the translation of the ccTLD for a given country into that country's language. Like .РФ for Russia's .ru.
The HUGE difference this time around is that the choices aren't restricted. You can apply for anything you want. You can apply for dot-ihatetlds if you want. Although it's unlikely anyone would want to buy a second level domain under that.
There are rules of course. But suddenly it means that the creativity of the Internet's naming systems are opened at the top-level. We all now know the word "google" but it was a pure invention - it meant nothing before a huge company was built around it.
Likewise, words we do know - like music, hotel, bike, florida, health, money and so on can now be used at the top-level. All of those words btw have people who have said they are going to apply for them - see the full list here: http://dot-nxt.com/applicants/all
So that's why this time it's different. Massively different.