Internet

What's in a Domain Name?

Thousands of new Internet domain names will soon be available, but who should control how they are used?

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A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, the Bard instructed us, but he wasn't dealing with the Internet.

Today the Internet has 22 generic top-level domain names—from .com and .gov to .org and .info—and they're all essentially the same. As anyone who's tried to register a new domain name lately can tell you, the good ones are all taken. Magazine.com, libertarian.com, plumbing.com (or .net or .biz for that matter) are all in use. 

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit body that coordinates the Internet's addressing system, plans to greatly expand the number of generic top-level domain names (generic as opposed to country domains like .uk or .ru). Soon websites will be able to have names that end with almost any word: .painting, .proctology, .whatever.  ICANN has screened and provisionally approved almost 2,000 applications for new top-level domains so far. Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of indignation over the domain name expansion. A parade of objections—both notionally and officially—threaten the Internet with not just bad policy, but with the possibility of government control.

First among the outraged are the perpetually concerned "consumer advocates." When Jon Leibowitz was chairman of the Federal Trade Commission two years ago, he sent ICANN a letter arguing that a greater number of domains would result in more fake websites scamming consumers. But if every innovation had to be proven to be risk-free before seeing the light of day, we would be living in dark times indeed.

Another set of criticism for ICANN's expansion is the fear that new top-level domains would not be made available publicly, but instead be put to private use by whoever wins at auction. For example, Amazon.com has applied for the .book domain. If it acquires the name, Amazon could operate a registry and allow anyone to get their own .book address. Alternatively, it could also just keep all .book addresses for itself, perhaps assigning each book and author in the world a web address corresponding to the company's catalog. 

"It's a very legitimate competition concern," Leibowitz, now a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell, told The New York Times last month. "The public at large, consumers and businesses, would be better served by no expansion or less expansion." It"s hard to see how consumers would benefit from fewer, rather than more, new ways to access information. 

With a technically infinite number of new domain names possible, competitive harm is not a serious issue. Today, Barnes & Noble owns book.com and its competitors are denied access to subdomains of book.com, like NickGillespie.book.com or UnitedStatesofParanoia.book.com. The same goes for food.com (owned by Scripps) or news.com (owned by CBS). Yet no one seriously thinks book or food or news competition is diminished. Amazon has established itself as the premier book retailer even though it doesn't own book.com, and owning .book isn't going to make it immune from competition.

Then there are those who have problems with specific potential new top-level domains. Last month, the Republican National Committee filed an objection with ICANN opposing an application for a new .republican domain by United TLD Holdco, a company looking to run 26 different new domains, including .democrat and .ninja. 

"It's not appropriate for them to run something that is called .Republican," G.O.P. State Leadership Committee President Chris Jankowski told National Journal. "Part of the new Internet is about making sure the people who have the interest in the brand, in this case political parties, not just crass commercial interest."

The word republican, however, has a broader meaning than the party and the party doesn't necessarily represent all persons identifying as Republican. Shouldn't the party compete with everyone else for the .republican top-level domain?

"We certainly are free-enterprise and market-capitalist, but we feel like we have the right to run our own political party," Jankowski said. "We run it in a nonprofit fashion, so I don't think the market capitalism should be involved with the actual operation of the party."

When governments object, however, it's a much more serious concern. Brazil and Argentina have challenged .Amazon and .Patagonia, respectively, which are being sought by the bookseller and the outdoor clothing company, also respectively. Saudi Arabia has objected to applications for .gay, .wine, and .bible, among others. 

To date the Internet has been governed in a decentralized fashion through a bottom-up, consensus-driven process run by autonomous, non-governmental entities. As one would imagine, this drives world governments crazy, and many have pushed for the UN to take over the various standards-setting bodies of the Internet. ICANN, because it controls the Internet's singular namespace, is the least decentralized of these bodies, and is the most vulnerable to government pressure.

Dismissing the likes of Leibowitz and the Republican Party should not be difficult for ICANN, but official objections coming from ICANN's own 111-state-member Government Advisory Council (GAC) will be harder to deal with. If it denies new domain applications at the behest of governments, the Internet gets a little less independent. If it doesn't, the Russias and Chinas of the world will cry foul, argue that the ICANN process doesn't work, and further push for UN control. As Milton Mueller has put it, what's at stake is "whether the use of words or names on the Internet is subject to arbitrary objections from politicians globalizing their local prejudices."

The best hope is that right-thinking governments—most likely those of the United States or the E.U. countries—stand up for ICANN's independence. Unfortunately, after holding it back for some time, the U.S. recently folded its arms and allowed a GAC consensus objection on .amazon to get through. That now forces ICANN's board to vote on whether to veto the states. And it confirms, once again, that no state can be trusted as the Internet's champion.

NEXT: U.S. Attorneys Say Marijuana Memo Won't Affect Their Anti-Pot Work

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  1. .com is hilarious, because everyone uses .com instead of .net or .org or .whatever. It’s like the old style message boards, where the admin sets up 90 categories and everyone starts new threads in “General” because that’s where everyone is.

    1. The original six (com, edu, gov, mil, net, org) easily covered everything except for single-person-named domains, which could have been handled with a seventh (“ind” for individual, or something like that), no more needed. Why was there a need for .biz when .com existed? Isn’t everything on the internet .info by its very nature? TLDs are not the same thing as search keywords, dammit.

      Oh, and get off my lawn you damn kids!

      1. The original six

        Hockey’s been all downhill since.

        Wait, what were you talking about?

        1. I was cool with the second expansion bringing the likes of the Flyers, Penguins, North Stars. Sure there were some non-entities like the Rockies, Barons and Golden Seals but it paved the way for all the California teams and the Avalanche. The the whole absorption of the WHL with the arrival of the Oilers who only turned around and dominated hockey for a decade in the 80s.

          Reminds me of the AFL-NFL merge with the Chiefs and Raiders leaving an impact when no one thought the AFL could compete.

        2. This is actually the best job Ive had. I work at Home with Google. I’ve made $64,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student. Moreover, My Uncle Carson got a stunning gold Porsche Cayenne Hybrid only from working part time off a pc. Official website http://www.Pow6.com

  2. I really don’t understand governments insistence on fucking with one of the most successful innovations of all time.

    I’d also really love a .game address

    1. .fytw

      1. 404 Not Found

        It does that EVERY time. Because…

      2. .winnah!

      3. If you have $180k laying around, we can make that happen.

        1. I hear the cultists are looking for a .obama domain. Can anyone confirm this?

    2. I don’t think it’s really governments (for once) but mostly registrars who are pushing the changes. Every new TLD is a chance to sell more registrations. It used to be that all you had to own was your company.com, and maybe the .net and .org domains if you wanted. And then they introduced things like .biz and .info, so you bought those too. If you couldn’t get the domain you wanted, you either bought it from the current owner, or did without. Expanding the number of TLDs just looks like a way to try and goose the market.

      1. When Jon Leibowitz was chairman of the Federal Trade Commission two years ago, he sent ICANN a letter

        FTC is the government, no?

  3. If it doesn’t, the Russias and Chinas of the world will cry foul…

    I’ve always hated this sentence structure. There’s actually only one Russia and one China. Well, actually, with the two China policy there would be two, and if someone famous was once tsar of all the Russias, maybe there is more than one of those too.

    Never mind.

    1. Belarus doesn’t count as a second Russia?

      1. It’s White Russia to you buddy boy.

    2. I always get scam emails from China that are like “someone is trying to register yourcompanyname.czk! pay us a bunch of money and will make sure you get it instead!”

      I own the .com and .net extensions, I really don’t see anything else ever being more than a sideshow.

      1. Same here, (although I never get the Chinese emails). I imagine some large companies are going to need to register a few TLDs in their company name though (.coke, .cocacola, .coca-cola, etc.), since otherwise some asshat lawyer will make the case that they’re not defending their trademark. Still, the new domains will all just be redirects to their existing .com domain.

  4. “arguing that a greater number of domains would result in more fake websites scamming consumers. But if every innovation had to be proven to be risk-free before seeing the light of day, we would be living in dark times indeed.”

    Strawman.

    I don’t disagree with the article, just straw men for the purposes of argumentation.

    1. I don’t see that as a Strawman argument.

  5. I use IP addresses exclusively. DNS is for pussies.

    1. I type all my comments in binary.

      1. Binary solo
        0000001
        00000011
        000000111
        0000001111

        0000001
        00000011
        000000111
        C’mon sucker lick my battery

        1. I had “A Kiss is Not a Contract” stuck in my head while mowing over the weekend.

      2. Real engineers use hexadecimal.

        0xFO2B_86AC

    2. I use wget to pull pages by IP, then view them in nano. Browsers are for pussies.

      (patiently awaiting the next round in this pissing match)

      1. damn, ProLib out-pissed me while i was inserting the punchcards that comprised my comment.

      2. Nano!? Go vi or go home.

        1. I can never remember the commands for vi.

          1. No one can. Just learn 25 of them and you’ll be able to do everything you need to.

            Legend has it that in emacs, there is a series of keystrokes that will convey knowledge of all emacs commands. No one has ever discovered it.

            1. in nano i need like 3 commands: save, exit, and cursor position.

              if i need to do editing that requires anything more than that, I copy the file to a proper computer with notepad++

              1. this is all moot I realize, since i should be piping cat into more to view my pages.

            2. No one can. Just learn 25 of them and you’ll be able to do everything you need to.

              This. Its always fun watching another vi ninja, because you learn cool shit.

            3. Best thing my first programming boss taught me was vi.

              Of course all the respect I gain from youngsters watching me program in vi is erased after they see me type an e-mail into outlook and then hit when I’m finished and everything is lost.

            4. I did.

      3. Nano? What kind of loser are you!?? vi or nothing.

        Also, the cool kids use curl these days. But I suppose that for people who use editors derived from pico, wget goes right along. The php of editors and simple HTTP clients…

        1. I old enough that I can’t keep up with what’s cool. I’d never even heard of curl before now.

          1. It’s very nice for throwing things at REST interfaces.

          2. Me either. Can I assume curl automatically tweets your commands and copies screen grabs to facebook for your legions of followers?

            1. curl is wget without the suck.

      4. nano

        (patiently awaiting the next round in this pissing match)

        nano?

        vi bitch.

      5. I presume you had this in mind?

  6. the good ones are all taken

    Well, yeah – now that I have [myname].com/,org and/.net

    Also, dibs on .lolwut

  7. So, which ones are bigger assholes: consumer advocates or public health advocates?

    1. *head assplodes*

    2. The answer is yes.

  8. Off topic:

    http://jezebel.com/company-in-…..1272772837

    Some people got no sense humor.

    1. Please do not fucking link to Jezebel or Feministing. We already get inundated with that shit constantly in the PM Links, we don’t need even more of it. Don’t be that guy.

      1. Everyone gets one free link a year.

      2. Wait, you actually open the AM/PM links threads? What happened to you to cause such a deep self-hatred, Epi?

        1. I’ve been suicidal ever since you rejected me, Hugh. That’s why I read the PM Links.

          I would never read the AM Links, not even if you rejected me twice as hard.

          1. The truth of why you don’t read AM Links is that your time zone is black on the right side. To get AM Links your time zone has to be white on right side- all of your time zone has to be white on the right side.

            1. There is no black side of Ariannus. As a matter of fact it’s all black.

          2. For the record, Epi, I didn’t reject you. I just asked you to shower first.

            1. That’s a de facto rejection! You know my feelings about being nude!

              1. Wait, Epi’s a nevernude?

                1. There are dozens of us, jesse! Dozens!

                  1. I think you’ve finally found something that weirds me out, Epi.

    2. How about a tailgate sticker of a Jezebel poster wearing nothing but an expression of extreme indignation?

      1. “If you can read this bumper sticker….STOP DIRECTING YOUR MALE GAZE AT MY ASS!”

      1. See, the trouble is there isn’t enough diversity in the tailgate sticker. It’s so othering to suggest that only young, blond women get kidnapped in trucks.

        It needs a proper representation of diversity. a strong Woman of Color being kidnapped…

      2. My car got keyed because of something a friend of mine did. And the asshole knew it wasnt his car because me friend was getting out of the back seat passenger side door.

      3. I’m a fucking animal that can’t control how I respond to my emotions even if that response entails committing a crime.

        /jezfem derp

        When we have humans thinking like this is it any wonder that they support nanny statists? They probably believe everyone else is an out-of-control lunatic just like themselves.

    3. My main objection to Jezebel has shifted from being annoyed with its POV to now being annoyed that all of their hack writers write in the same irritating “style”.

  9. I can’t believe no one has linked to this yet: http://bit.ly/qbeK

  10. “For example, Amazon.com has applied for the .book domain. If it acquires the name, Amazon could operate a registry and allow anyone to get their own .book address”

    This could be a concern for keeping the web as decentralized as possible. They should simply sell all *.* addresses on a first come, first served basis and forget about selling whole domains. It’s worked pretty well so far. If you want to get a monopoly on address traffic to a certain domain you can buy some Google Ad Words…

    1. I prefer to keep the web as free market as possible. I don’t much care about your aesthetic preferences for “decentralization”, thanks.

      1. This suggestion IS “more free” than the other proposal.

      2. ICANN which is loosely controlled by the government, manages all of public DNS. You can’t do it because they say you can’t. There’s an allowed market in registrars but there no free market in TLDs. It’s also operated at the country level too. New Zealand can deny anyone a .nz address full stop.

        The only way too have a truly free market is to have a decentralized DNS implementation. This way DHS and ICE cannot seize domain names like it usually does.

        All of this is very analogous to FCC control of airwaves, except not as tightly controlled.

  11. Fun note: there are still a few .su domains.

  12. I’ve gotta say, lousy though ICANN is, I’d rather see them in charge of generic names rather than individually interested corporations. Sure, BN owns book.com. But amazon owning .books means that they control the entire name space, and can use it as their own website. (Like, they can have one page for every author, and every book, that goes to, well, their service site.) This is a hell of a lot less competitive than owning a single domain name, generic as it may be.

  13. One of my favorite names ever was:

    anesthesiology.louisville.edu

    They actually said, when questioned, that they didnt want emails from anyone who couldnt spell it anyway. This was mid 90s.

    1. Who needs anaesthesia, when you can read that URL and fall asleep?

  14. Remember everyone, there is no reason you have to use the ICANN based root name servers.

    Create your own and allow people to point to them. Assign whatever names you want to existing IP addresses.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_DNS_root

    1. Ha, I do that at home. The domains for admonitor, adspace, blogads, doubleclick, twitter, facebook, etc., on my home DNS server all point to a local Apache instance which promptly returns a nice 404 for each. As a result, reason’s webpage loads really fast and there are no “like” buttons.

      1. Smart.

        Ive done it for a few work domains, especially for testing purposes where I wanted to hit the backup machine but wanted to use all the real domain names.

  15. Thanks for illuminating the entire concept of domain name. It has become a topic of competition as countless websites are getting registered every day. People have to face problem when they do not able to register their desire domain name at the time publishing the site. Thankfully many domain registrars like https://domainia.com/register#pre offers domain pre-registration service so that people can relax by pre-registering the domain before getting started to develop the site.

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