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    Highlights of the ICANNWatch Archive
    (June 1999 - March 2001)

    Alternate Roots Apples and Hand Grenades...
    posted by michael on Tuesday July 30 2002, @09:28AM

    peterd writes "I've long suspected that when the DNS debate flares up, as it does periodically and folks get all hot under the collar about DNS it's to a large degree because the camps are tossing "apples and hand grenades" over each other's shoulders. There is much heat and light and fruit salad flying about, with much impunging of motives and declarations of technical incompetence, but not much acknowledgement that there might be an alternate type of oblate spheroid that might be worth thinking about other than the one you're currently tossing around."

    The traditional IETF view is that the DNS is a stable mechanism for providing an all-important layer of indirection between names and IP addresses. In this view, the DNS is a critical infrastructure component of the Internet, so providing a single, stable root (and thus a homogenous, consistent view of the world from anywhere on the net) is essential. To those who argue for improving the utility of the DNS as a "directory service", the reply is is that the DNS is *not* a directory service, so it doesn't matter that it isn't searchable, or that in particular, users can't ask for and expect to get any name string they might want. Fracturing the DNS into multiple services would clearly degrade its usefulness for its original, intended purpose, so it should be enough to say "look, the DNS isn't the service you want it to be, because it's not the service you think it is. You want a user-friendly directory service? Go build one, but keep your mits off the DNS, since breaking it will have consequences you wont acknoweldge or can't forsee".

    I have a lot of sympathy for this point of view. I want my email to resolve as much as the next person. And I would add that I certainly don't think anyone is entitled to reap a .COM-like fortune just because they can set up a couple of DNS servers and hijack a few million TLD registrations. And yeah, there are a few folks selling snakeoil involved in this debate.


    An alternative bite of the apple (which obviously gets short shift in the IETF technical community) is that like it or not the DNS is currently being used as a de facto directory service by many of its users and they expect certain things from it that the DNS technical community is not providing. In particular and most critically, believers in this point of view feel strongly that users should have far more choice in terms of available names than they currently have, due in large part to "artificial" scarcity in TLDs.

    In this world view, the current state of the DNS namespace - in which the majority of TLD users live in .COM, and the vast majority of English (and French and a few other languages) dictionary strings are already taken - is a terrible disservice to users and thus is something to be "repaired". The prevailing view here is that "If it can't be fixed with the current ICANN-controlled structure then it's time to fracture the root and open things up to a little healthy competition".

    Now, note that I didn't say that one of these views is right and the other is wrong, so please holster your weapons for a moment. I'm also happy to agree, if anyone wants me to, that these later considerations are "political", not technical ones, although I don't agree with the coda, which runs something like "and is thus out of scope for the IETF". I happen to think that the IETF community is acting collectively a bit like the guy who killed his parents and then argued for leniency because he was an orphan. We've argued for a while now that the political issues surrounding DNS should be taken up with ICANN, and this position has left us with a mess. The IETF has punted such questions as "how many more TLDs?" and "When?" as out of scope, and now wonder why "those morons" don't realize the harm they might do to DNS in the name of more user choice. Well, I personally don't like to complain about my users hammering in screws with a hammer if I can't offer them some form of screwdriver in its place.

    Maybe there really are two different debates here. Many within the IETF seem to be guilty of simultaneously complaining about the threat inherent in attempts at building multiple roots, while telling folks to keep their mits off the current root. Now, this position makes sense only if there's really a single possible outcome here (keep the current DNS name resolution functionality with no extensions), but what if what those other folks are doing really doesn't belong in the current DNS tree anyways, but is useful to some folks? Shouldn't we be *encouraging* them to take their work off out of the DNS tree?

    If we agree that the DNS works eminently fine for its intended purpose, but would be threatened by instability if we were to allow the sort of innovation/experimentation/fooling around that some folks would like to see, then let's pack 'em off to "directory service land", where people operate additional services to serve communities of size n, for n less than the whole Internet. Now, if they did that couldn't we even let them talk about what hooks might be useful to allow communication from such services back on planet Internet? This would seem to bring this debate back to something like "how do we tie together multiple, sometimes disparate services using a single communications system"? Hopefully, we can agree that such a question is in scope for the technical community, whereas "when do we get more TLDs" is clearly so far out that it just makes people tired yelling about it....

    - peterd

    [* Note: The above is a slightly edited version of a posting I made to the IETF general mailing list on July 29, 2002. I was responding to a message in which the author claimed that ICANN had demonstrated that the current DNS single registry-multiple registrar model "works". In thinking about this claim, it led me to consider the fundamental chasm we find dividing technical and non-technical folks when the subject of DNS is debated. *]

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    Apples and Hand Grenades... | Log in/Create an Account | Top | 3 comments | Search Discussion
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    Re: Apples and Hand Grenades...
    by RFassett on Tuesday July 30 2002, @11:11AM (#8227)
    User #3226 Info | http://www.enum.info
    Nice analysis but I would need to understand further the dark line that exists between the "technical" camp and "politcal" camp since was it not the IETF that recommended to the political camp (ICANN) that TLD expansion should be performed in "a limited and controlled manner" purely for reasons of technical stability? (nothing political). And, given this, since there has been expansion with a degree of technical history now to draw from (where the environment largely remains the same) can not the technical camp (IETF) now provide a technical opinion regarding stability performance as a result? (even if such an opinion remains virtually the same as is already on record such as: "any new TLD's should continue in a limited and controlled manner" to put it simply). Or maybe I am missing something in your analysis of this dark line between the technical and political camps? If this type of opinion was within the scope of the IETF previous, why is it not now? I do not see why, by issuing a technical opinion based upon technical data, the IETF may be considered as crossing over into the political realm (thus outside its scope) - just as it was not considered as such when issuing its initial opinion. This is what I do not understand in regards to your thoughtful analysis.
    [ Reply to This | Parent ]

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