RealNames 2: Name Harder

ICANN is not exactly the kind of an organisation that I previously held in high regard. They’re in control of a rather crucial bit of the world’s IT infrastructure - the domain names. You’d expect that an organisation that needs to do that sort of a very difficult task would expect to also behave cluefully - something they’ve shown quite a resistance to, previously.

Still, there were no world-changing bungles previously. But now, I think they threw the last bits of sanity they had right out of the window.

The domain name system is a hierarchic structure of names. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, but the problem with names is that, well, people get attached to the names. They want better names. And if someone’s using their name, things turn really nasty.

The underlying system in DNS is not very complicated. You have a bunch of top-level domains (TLDs) whose registrations are handled by specific registries. If you wanted to have a presentable domain name under a TLD, you got it sorted out with a specific registry. Easy peasy.

Then, the ICANN decided that maybe, maybe, these TLDs should be a little bit more… marketable. You can’t really make money out of a .com - yawn, that’s just a geekspeak that this is a “commercial” site. Boring! The market demands exciting opportunities like .aero for, uh, æroports and… something like that. More recently, they opened up a TLD called “.xxx” - for a supposed global organisation, they make a pretty big assumption that some other parts of the world know what the hell that means. (I’ll rant about that later.)

But this wasn’t obviously enough. Having failed at creating memorable TLDs, ignoring the fact that those TLDs only added to the general inconvenience, they’re now opening the stuff up completely. Pay a gigantic wad of cash, and you can have a brand-name TLD.

ICANN is just not listening to what people are saying. They’re not aware of what people are doing.

ICANN, if anyone, should be aware that even under normal TLDs, there’s a huge amount of controversy over who gets to own what domain name. There are trademark disputes over ordinary domains all the time, simply because trademarks aren’t unique - but the fact that trademarks aren’t unique means that people have to accept the fact that sometimes you don’t get the domain you really, really want. Then there’s the whole problem with typosquatting. Sure, you may think the price tag of a couple of thousand dollars would prevent disputes, but somehow, I don’t think so. Higher price tag just sets the scene for Epic Disputes for the Ages. Does ICANN really think they should be wading in waters where even the normal registries have immense problems in? Are they going to boldly go where angels fear to tread?

One of the good sides about having sites in .com was that disputes could be settled in all quiet and, technically, even if you lost, you still could make your new, slightly less obvious domain name well known. Being slightly late, Mozilla Firefox folks didn’t get firefox.com, but everyone knows that you can get the browser from “Get Firefox”. Which redirects to mozilla.com, which is the actual organisation that does Firefox development, anyway.

And it highlights one small problem: Firefox does just fine, even when they host the browser’s main marketing page at http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/. It’s not a “cool” domain. The thing is, people don’t actually type in addresses. They’ll get there through other routes. Like, oh, going to Google and typing “Firefox” - first hits are mostly relevant. I’m a technically minded guy, so I’m, of course, above using Google for everything. I know how to use bookmarks. And browser history.

So why the hell would new top-level brand domains solve anything? We already saw how marketable that was; RealNames was not exactly a huge success back in the day. It lead to fascinating business practices.

Now, ICANN is basically proposing a standards-compliant, cross-platform, evolutionary implementation of RealNames and good ol’ (ugh) AOL Keywords. In other words, this time around, it may actually work in technical sense, because this time the proponents of this idea actually got the ICANN to cooperate with their harebrained scheme and got access to the holiest of the holies of the Internet, the part which only the responsible adults are supposed to touch. You know, organisations that are supposed to act responsibly. Like ICANN.

But until I’ve seen solid proof to the contrary, I’ll just assume they’ll keep making the same social mistakes RealNames did back in the day. So far, they’ve not convinced me otherwise. The domain registrars have always had the history of trying to tage advantage of these “landrush” phases. The registrars just assume that companies will pay a wad of cash for a domain in the new TLDs - heck, they’ll probably just pay a wad of cash for a TLD of their own.

In other words, it’s likely we see the same idiocy that we saw with keyword companies and shady alternate DNS roots 10 years ago… but this time around, it’s totally legit because ICANN has approved of it and it actually works this time, guys, totally, you’ll just see.

In conclusion, ICANN is retarded. I’ve been kind of teetering before on whether to go out and say that or not, but now it’s getting abundantly clear.

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