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The New DNS Mess

The Age has an interesting article about proposed DNS changes [1].

Apparently ICANN is going to sell top level DNS names and a prediction has been made that they will cost more than $100,000 each. A suggestion for a potential use of this would be to have cities as top level names (a .paris TLD was given as an example). The problem with this is that they are not unique. Countries that were colonised in recent times (such as the US and Australia) have many names copied from Europe. It will be interesting to see how they plan to determine which of the cities registers names, for the .paris example I’m sure that the council of Paris Illinois [2] would love to register it. Does the oldest city win an international trademark dispute over a TLD?

The current situation is that French law unambiguously determines who gets to register paris.fr and someone who sees the URL will have no confusion as to what it means (providing that they know that fr is the ISO country code for France).

As well as city names there are region names which are used for products. Australian vineyards produce a lot of sparkling wine that they like to call Champagne and a lot of fortified wine that they like to call Port. There are ongoing battles about how these names can be used and it seems likely to me that the Australian wine industry will change to other terms. But in the mean-time it would be interesting if .champagne and .port were registered by Australian companies. The fuss that would surely cause would probably give enough free publicity to the Australian wine industry to justify an investment of $200,000 on TLDs.

The concern that is cited by business people (including the client who forwarded me the URL and requested my comments) is that of the expense of protecting a brand. Currently if you have a company named “Example” you can register example.com, example.net, and example.org if you are feeling enthusiastic. Then if you have a significant presence in any country you could register your name in the DNS hierarchy for that country (large companies try to register their name in every country – for a multinational registering ~200 domains is not really difficult or expensive). But if anyone can create a new TLD (and therefore if new ones are liable to be created at any time) it becomes much more difficult. For example if a new TLD was created every day then a multi-national corporation would need to assign an employee to work full-time on investigating the new TLDs and deciding which ones to use. A small company that has an international presence (IE an Internet company) would just lose a significant amount of control over their name.

I don’t believe that this is as much of a concern as some people (such as my client) do. Currently I could register a phone line with a listed name indicating that it belongs to the Melbourne branch of a multi-national corporation. I don’t expect that Telstra would stop me, but the benefit from doing this would be minimal (probably someone who attempted fraud using such means would not gain much and would get shut down quickly). I don’t think that a DNS name registered under a .melbourne TLD would cause much more harm than a phone number listed in the Melbourne phone book. Incidentally for readers from the US, I’m thinking of Melbourne in Australia not a city of the same name in the US – yet another example of a name conflict.

Now I believe that it would be better if small companies didn’t use .com domains. The use of country specific names relevant to where they work are more appropriate and technically easier to implement. I don’t regret registering coker.com.au instead of some name in another country or in the .com hierarchy. Things would probably be working better right now if a .com domain name had always cost $100,000 and there were only a few dozen companies that had registered them. But we have to go with the flow sometimes, so I have registered RussellCoker.com.

Now when considering the merit of an idea we should consider who benefits and who (if anyone) loses. Ideally we would choose options that provide benefits for many people and losses for few (or none). In this case it seems that the suggested changes would be a loss for corporations that want to protect their brand, a loss for end-users who just want to find something without confusion, and provide more benefits for domain-squatters than anyone else.

Maybe I should register icann.port and icann.champagne if those TLDs are registered in Australia and impersonate ICANN. ;)

3 comments to The New DNS Mess

  • There are a number of issues that need to be considered here. Most consumers looking for a website will simply type the brand name or company name followed by ‘.com’. If this doesn’t deliver them to the website they want they will try to find the site using Google (or other search engine). The ICANN decision will only benefit one company.

    The other issue is phishing. Companies and brand owners will need to register their names in every available TLD. The costs for registration and management will be exorbitant. Now lets imagine a consumer receiving an email from something@paypal.anything is going to lead to more phishing victims. Let’s all try to explain to our Mothers that if it says it’s from Ebay it might not be from Ebay. But it could be from Ebay if it’s from was ebay.com. But not if it was from ebay.auctions. But it could be if it was from ebay.com.au. But be careful if it is from ebay.ng. Etc Etc.

    Just my two cents.

    Robert

  • It’s not “selling” them. It’ll be a single round of new gTLDs. See the process flowchart – the applications close before they are all reviewed in a big bunch. So all of these disputes can be raised in the process. ie, it’s just like they did last time with .aero and .museum, except this time with an open call for suggestions.