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

    The Big Picture "Do Domain Names Matter?"
    posted by tbyfield on Tuesday August 05 2003, @09:26AM

    Francis Hwang, chief geek at the net-art organization Rhizome and occasional blogger, has written an essay, "Do Domain Names Matter?", in which he "argues that the decentralizing internet is going to allow the DNS to recede to its earlier, uncontroversial role, before all the lawsuits and screaming matches at ICANN board meetings."

    My initial though was what "decentralizing internet," but Hwang makes a compelling case by looking at DNS as one of many pieces in an experiential puzzle from a "user-centered" perspective. Much of ICANN's business would have benefited from more such plainspoken assessments of the impact of various policies on users -- from whois policy as a spammer's paradise to toning down vaporous diktats about "security and stability" even as 600,000+ email addresses were evicted en masse because of a lame intellectual-property claim. And when ICANN has taken these factors into account, if only inadvertently, the results have been hilarious -- for example, former CEO and current hangabout Mike Roberts's plaint at MDR2K that he didn't know how to pronounce ".iii".

    Obviously, the alleged needs and wants of the proverbial user cannot and should not be the trump card in every aspect of ICANN's decision-making processes. "Users," to the extent that they exist at all outside of userland, are notoriously fickle except for just generally wanting things to work without having to understand how they work. Since the net became a popular phenomenon, this tension between (to use a cheap metaphor) the surfaces of its "functionality" and the depths of its technical potentials has been a major factor in every aspect of its development, from the lowliest dialup tech support issue to the headiest speculations about the Next Big Thing. DNS is, of course, no exception.

    But failing a more user-centered policy, one would hope that ICANN would at least fall back on the mass of technical expertise and, maybe more important, prestige it had at its disposal. No such luck: little of that expertise has been brought to bear in ICANN's development. Instead, the prestige associated with its technical savvy has been squandered as ICANN sought to tiptoe through terrain increasingly riddled with political mines on its way to establishing itself as the dauphin of DNS. The result, as Clay Shirky put well in an essay cited by Hwang: "The fact that ICANN is a political body is not their fault (though the kind of political institution it has become is their fault)." Had ICANN emulated the style of the figure it persists in paying dusty tribute to, Jon Postel, it could have delegated decision-making authority to various "stakeholding" groups and ratified their decisions. Instead, it used the froth of debates in these communities as cover to cut deals with the ever-expanding rump NSI-VeriSign-Network Solutions and rentier forces like intellectual property zealots, thereby exacerbating many of the problems it claimed to want to resolve.

    In trying to explain the diminishing interest in DNS, Hwang notes that "ICANN pales in comparison to the new crop of acronyms -- MPAA, RIAA, DMCA, TIA, USA PATRIOT -- menacing us today." But it remains to be seen whether ICANN will be able to maintain a healthy distance from these forces. As the old saying goes, he who snacks with the devil must use a long spork. Unfortunately, ICANN brought something else.

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      Related Links  
  • VeriSign/NSI
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  • ICANNWatch.org
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  • Francis Hwang
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  • Do Domain Names Matter?
  • More on The Big Picture
  • Also by tbyfield
    This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.
    "Do Domain Names Matter?" | Log in/Create an Account | Top | 14 comments | Search Discussion
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    by fnord (groy2kNO@SPAMyahoo.com) on Tuesday August 05 2003, @07:29PM (#12025)
    User #2810 Info
    A minor quibble, t. Seems to me it was Andrew McLaughlin [icann.org] who couldn't understand the memorability of, oh, dot triple i, for example.

    As to the article it is right on and I've said similar for quite some time here and elsewhere. I do much work with end-users and it makes less and less sense for them to use the DNS, or trust it. Cybersquatters, domain dropgrabbers, and ICANN's inability to follow the curve on new TLDs which made some sort of sense, have all combined to render the DNS increasingly irrelevant (and with the WLS or similar that will get much worse). -g

    [ Reply to This | Parent ]
    • DNS trust by fnord Wednesday August 06 2003, @01:36PM
    • 1 reply beneath your current threshold.
    by RFassett on Wednesday August 06 2003, @07:41AM (#12028)
    User #3226 Info | http://www.enum.info
    I look at a new TLD as a new invention, something that has never before existed. This article takes the approach that DNS is an old invention that is being passed by by new innovative technologies. I would agree that the concept of inventing a new TLD under the premise or model of simply turning on lights is not a real "useful" approach and one that is fairly well time tested where new inventions are concerned...but, to further self-regulate your new invention at a fixed price regardless of market demand is really rather silly business practice. To then later say that this new invention simply "doesn't matter" or is a "stability risk" for the less-than-expected population that has chosen to participate is, to me, inferring the obvious and quite predictable (with little need to monitor slashdot topic threads). I would characterize the usefulness of DNS as one that has become highly stagnant while the rest of the Net continues to mature and evolve and in many ways simply work around DNS stagnation to achieve "usefulness" as is well cited within the article.

    [ Reply to This | Parent ]
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