If ICANN then you can too

Head colds - you've got to love them. What else gives you the excuse to take a wet Monday off work and sit at home in your dressing gown drinking whisky all day?

Head colds — you’ve got to love them. What else gives you the excuse to take a wet Monday off work and sit at home in your dressing gown drinking whisky all day?

Sure, there’s the nose full of ectoplasm, not to mention the short attention span and the aching limbs, but it’s worth it not to have to get up and drive into the office, and sit and listen to everyone’s weekends being recounted.

Sadly, technology has done away with all that and so this column is brought to you remotely from my sick bed courtesy of JetStream, Aspro Clear and a surprisingly drinkable echinacea and lemon tea. Which is why I thought it appropriate, in my slightly other-worldly state, to talk about top-level domain names. You really need to be ill and feeling sorry for yourself to appreciate the whole world of ICANN, IANA and their friends.

In the beginning there was the dot-com. Then came the crash. Now dot-coms are mocked and referred to by lesser mortals as dot bombs, an amusing and easy-to-remember shorthand for business journalists who felt left out because when they wrote about the internet they couldn’t put “porn” in the headline like their mainstream brethren.

As a result of the internet boom, decent dot-com names are hard to come by these days. ICANN is working to sort this problem out by introducing new top-level names — two to start off with, .biz and .info. Quite how .biz doesn’t coincide with .com is beyond me — surely both are aimed at businesses and both will be hotly contested in matters of copyright.

Therein lies the problem. Introducing new domain names won’t change the fundamental problem of copyright. Different authorities around the world have issued copyright proclamations on a local basis. Consequently you will have Jones and Company as a business name in hundreds of countries around the world, often competing in the same areas and all trying to get online and compete. Something’s got to give, and simply adding a couple of new top-level domains won’t change things. The cynic in me says this is just a way of making more money for those folk who sell and manage domain names. I’m sure there’s a more noble reason than that but at the moment it escapes me.

Instead, I say get rid of the lot of them. Other countries have. France, hardly a beacon of internet savvy, does just fine without .com, .biz, .net, .gen or any of the others. Here in New Zealand we could easily follow suit and go for a simple .nz. That at least does away with the problem caused by having two Jones and Company’s trying to register the same name — it’s first come, first served. Of course, that could lead to problems when we run out of easily recognised versions of the same names: jonesandcompany.nz, jones&company.nz, jonesandco.nz, etc.

The other alternative, of course, is to open up the second layer to anything anyone wants. If Jones is a lawyer then they could have jonesandco.law.nz while Jones the plumber could have jonesandco.wet.nz, or whatever they wanted. That also doesn’t solve the problem, it creates a whole new one: finding anything you want online — already something of a nightmare.

I think ICANN is selling itself short. I realise Americans don’t really understand there’s a whole world, literally, beyond the shores of .com but adding an all-too-similar additional name doesn’t help matters. Already businesses have to either fight for their own intellectual property against others with similar names or positions in an industry.

On top of that you get new trademark holders having to spend thousands of dollars to register each possible variation of their new name in all the various second-level domains, or risk being told they didn’t defend their trademark vigorously enough.

It’s going to take either a lot of committee work to come up with a solution or a new technological shift to make searching online easier. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send email to Paul Brislen. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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