ICANN gTLD Plan Begins to Unravel

Oh ICANN, Dear ICANN. Please say it ain’t so!

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the bureaucracy that oversees the Internet. This committee of intellectuals coordinates IP address space, assigns address blocks, governs standards, administers root DNS architecture, develops internationalization, arbitrates disputes, and perhaps – most ignobly – it sets policy over Top Level Domains.

They do this all under a US government contract which evolved as the Internet grew from academic and military roots to become an all-encompassing network of global public highways. But over the years and throughout the shifting winds of politics and technology, one thing has remained constant: ICANN’s fundamental Raison d’être is to ensure the stable and secure operation of the Internet. Obviously, they cannot ensure the stability and ready access of every web server. The operation, maintenance and connection of equipment is the responsibility of the millions of server owners across the globe. Each GoDaddy, each Google, and each individual user is a node in a vast network that gradually creeps—some pundits suspect—toward consciousness.

Since ICANN manages a public resource, there will always be political components to the organization structure and funding. After all, it is difficult to imagine their responsibilities fulfilled by an entity subject to pure, free market mechanisms. But because they are international in scope, setting standards & policy that affect billions of people in every nook and cranny of our world, they should be depoliticized to the extent possible. Every opportunity should be exploited to move each department and each function toward free market mechanisms.

Unfortunately, in the post-Esther Dyson era, ICANN has turned into a money grubbing hodgepodge of special interests. It certainly appears that they are extorting wads of cash from the public by raising fears of trademark infringement. It’s the only reasonable explanation for their insane and malfeasant decision to create unlimited global Top Level Domains (gTLDs).

If you already operate as Coca-Cola.com, why on earth should you be pushed into buying .Coca-Cola? Simple. Because ICANN will sell it to someone else if you don’t.

In the middle of 2011, ICANN cooked up a cockamamie idea to unleash an infinite number of random top level domains on the world. I tried hard to dissuade ICANN from proliferating gTLDs when it was proposed in June 2011. (I wrote about it here at AWildDuck, when the Blog was created in August). I have a few friends at ICANN, though I suspect I am losing them fast. And so, here is my mea culpa: I told you so…

No—The plan has not yet been fully implemented. It’s slated to go online in 2013. But it’s already beginning to unravel. Today, ICANN announced that due to public dissent and gross technical problems (they called it “unexpected results”), they are scrapping a new system designed to prioritize TLD applications. This is big news to the few thousand applicants who hope to own custom top level domains such as .google, .dance-with-the-stars, or .i_are_an_idiot! After all, they put up US $185,000 each to corner the market for snake oil. They see it as a potentially valuable piece of web real estate.

Dear applicants: It is not. It is smoke up your derriere—an illusion.

Listen up, ICANN: Stop duping the public. Stop profiteering. It’s not in your charter. Go back to square one. In fact, Go a few steps behind square one. you are solving a problem that does not exist. There are already too many gTLDs (.com and .gov and perhaps .org are the only ones that are useful). Everything else clouds the water and invites squatters and profiteers. They only serve to fatten your wallets or stir up trade name disputes.

A better idea: Get rid of all TLDs. Every one of them! Let current .com users own the naked term and stop forcing little guys to repurchase their names. Please ICANN. The current debacle is just the first embarrassment. Run back. Admit the error. Give it up!

Ellery to ICANN: Just toss out TLDs altogether

Several Wild Ducks have asked me to comment about gTLDs and the numerous articles about the imminent availability of these Generic Top Level Domains. Under a new plan, recently approved by ICANN, domain registrars will begin selling Top Level domains that allow individuals and organizations to end their Internet address in any way they like. For example, you could become the arbiter of coca-cola, and then dole out domains that end in this way, such as corp.coca-cola or drink.coca-cola. (There is no .com, because in this example, the top level is the phrase “coca-cola”.

First, some background (or skip directly to my opinion)…

In the beginning, there were just a few TLDs. Most web surfers still think of the group as the legitimate core, because they represent an established cadre of online companies and organizations: .com, net, .org, .gov and the individual country endings, such as .co.uk, .il, .tv, .cc, etc. People, of course, started using these URL names generally. You found links like https://babestationcams.com/performer/ElleJessica when people expected not to encounter illicit material under those domains. It was a different time. A fair time, but a different one. You still see some websites for illicit things, like the escort stuttgart services, using this format, but some people had issues with that.

Then, some wise guy got it into his head that we needed .info, .museum, .movie, and most recently, .xxx. Of course, websites such as fulltube saw this invention and jumped all over it. The thinking behind is bizarre: If you can’t eliminate porn, rope it off into a red-light district. Yeah, sure! This will surely deter my teenage nephew from checking out https://www.hdpornvideo.xxx/ or one of the many other popular porn sites! Today, there are 22 gTLDs and 250 country codes.

Now, they’re at it again! In their infinite wisdom, the governors at ICANN have decided to dole out arbitrary TLDs. (Thankfully, this does not include founding ICANN governor and chairperson, Esther Dyson. Like me, she understands that unleashing gTLDs will lead to waste, litigation and folly). In June 2011, the ICANN board approved of a plan to offer arbitrary top level domains. The plan goes into effect in December 2012. Want your domain to end with .IveGotAStupidIdea? Be my guest! Just pony up an application fee of US $185,000 and soon, you too will be signing up anyone who wants their domain to end in this way.

Time for a Wild Duck rebuttal

Concerning the ICANN decision to open the TLD floodgates, some have suggested that it is a “cash grab”. Perhaps that’s one motive. After all, ICANN wants USD $185,000 from each applicant. (Why?!). And one ICANN officer already has quietly set up a venture to capitalize on the forthcoming milieu. But considering the nearly unanimous vote, I suspect that at least a few ICANN members think that the idea has merit, even without the allure of personal gain.

Unfortunately, the idea has no merit! Implementing choose-your-own TLD will create market chaos. It makes TLDs irrelevant. Domain and trademark owners can’t possibly chase after every combination of letters in the universe. Under this scheme, we will all simply own domains with dot somewhere in the name.

More likely, it will have a “regressive” effect by making .com the only relevant TLD. In the end, that may be the silver lining. But it is still an asinine idea, because there is an easier way to achieve simplicity. In fact, .com is already akin to not requiring a TLD at all! In effect, you own the real-estate that comes before it. All other TLDs are irrelevant. (.gov is a possible exception, because it is controlled within a clearly defined venue).

Why is .com so relevant and important?

  • It’s the domain browsers add automatically (press “Ctrl-Enter”)
    (there is even a key for it on the Android text-entry keyboard)
  • Domains that end with .us resolve to .com, even without .us
  • Search engines are biased to present them first

To illustrate, consider this: The CEO of Coca-Cola is Muhtar Kent. Once ICANN doles out generic and arbitrary gTLDs, which address below do you suppose Mr. Kent will use? Which would you choose?

  • mkent@coca-cola.com
  • mkent@coca-cola.{something else}
  • mkent@{something}.coca-cola

In the last two examples, the {something} is required! Without it, the address is illegal (it fails). Why would anyone want the address mkent@ceo.coca-cola? It is preposterous!

I am in favor of throwing away TLDs altogether! Let’s just agree that if you own the .com property, then you are a fortunate puppy. In effect, you own the words that precede it-the naked term. If you don’t own the .com property, then you are playing 2nd fiddle. You will forever be losing mail, because many senders accidentally address the “real” McCoy and not a “wannabe” (that’s you, of course!).

If you already have a domain ending in .net or .org (the semi-credible alternatives) or even .info or .tv (positively ludicrous!), then use it in good health. But only in rare situations does using a non .com TLD make sense – and only if you own both .com and another TLD of the same word. For example, Verizon differentiates its staff and users by separating them into .com and .net communities. That’s kind of nifty, but it still leads to confusion and misdirected mail! FWIW: .com rules the web.

Ellery Davies clarifies law and public policy
Feedback is always invited.
– Ellery Davies