In the future, anything can be a TLD

ICANN has announced the approval of a new policy for the creation of new top-level domains, known as gTLD's in the jargon.

A gTLD is the suffix such as .com or .net that appears at the end of an Internet address, except for two-letter country codes (such as .dk or .us). Originally the only gTLDs were .com, .org and .net, for general use, plus a few stray ones (.mil, .gov and .edu) which should probably have been under .us but was inherited from the Internet Stone Age where .us had not yet been invented. During the last decade or so, a dozen or so of new gTLDs, such as .info, .museum and .cat have been created, as an experiment in how to the Internet's namespace should evolve in the future.

The experimental process that gave us .info and its friends was, hmm, let us just call it rather heavy. Formal proposals had to be made, public comments collected, innumerable constituencies consulted, pages upon pages of reports written, read and eventually voted on by the board of ICANN. Unsurprisingly this approach has been found not to scale, so ICANN is streamlining it considerably.

In the future everyone will be able to propose a new top-level domain, and if you pass a few technical sanity checks (not yet quite defined, it seems) and pay the fee (at least several thousand dollars, it is rumored), then presto, you have your own top-level domain name.

The announcement suggests that this new process will be used to create city-based gTLDs such as .paris or .nyc in which second-level domains can be registered by the public like it happens in the existing ones. And we can readily imagine future trade-specific gTLDs – say, .food or .bank – and language-specific ones like the existing .cat for the Catalan community. (I appreciate that ICANN would not want to conduct a heavy voting-based process on .kurd ...)

Such community-based domains are the lofty, noble ideal. If there is a market for being zum-schwanen.berlin instead of zum-schwanen-wannsee.de, it's cool with me. Sure, the first one to squat the name of your city will be able to skim a profit off .yourcity domains, but they cannot bleed you too white because they need to compete with .com at least for new customers. In practice, though, I suppose the ICANN's suggestions of .brandname and .yournamehere will get more attention. Expect to see .ebay, .google, or .dell sometime soon.

This is really inevitable. It is already the prevailing wisdom in many places that if you're serious about running an internet-enabled business you need to register your name in all top-level domains where you qualify. If www.lego.net, www.lego.biz and www.lego.info all lead to the same site (which they do), then what is the point of having a gTLD there in the first place? The Market has spoken, and according to the Market, businesses do not want to fit into a hierarchical naming scheme if they can help it.

But there is a problem here. I cannot imagine that the Big Red will be satisfied to have a web site at http://www.coke/ – in the brave TLD-less world of tomorrow they'll want to be http://coke/. Fine, you say? Yes, but remember that up until now, http://coke/ has been an instruction to the browser to connect to the machine on the local network named coke, and display what that machine sends back. And, it will continue to mean that irrespective of the creation of a new TLD. If there is no such machine on the local network, you ought to get whatever the TLD resolves to. This may or may not be the case with your browser right now, but in a few years all major operating systems and browsers will be upgraded to understand this.

But what happens when you're on a local network where one machine happens to be called coke? Either you get The Coca-Cola Company or you get your local machine, but which one? That depends on seldom-explored details of your DNS resolver software, but it doesn't matter because neither answer is Right! If you get Coca-Cola, you suddenly can't access your local machine, and if you get the local machine, then you'll be misdirected when you click on a link to http://coke/ on a third-party website.

So it appears that in the future, network administrators must be careful to choose names for their machines that do not collide with any website their users may want to visit. You may think it is easy to avoid calling your machines coke, but any word out there might collide. For example, I name machines on my home network for people in Greek myth; no obvious trademarks there. The file server is called kreon, and I refer to it by this name on the command line dozens of time a day. But what if the fine people at kreon.com (which I did not know existed before I started this entry) decide they want their own TLD? I'll have to choose between renaming my machine or losing access to part of the web. Perhaps an easy choice for me to make, but imagine that you manage IT services at a university department with hundreds of machines... Choose strange names that are unlikely to collide? But how? All of pc42.com, box25.com, abc10.com, and k19.com exist today. These were the first four nonsense letter-digit combinations I tried to look up.

As far as I can see, the only way not to drive every network administrator in the world insane is if ICANN preemptively declares that, sure, you can all have the TLDs you want, but adresses like http://lego/ or foobar@lego must not be used. This can be enforced easily by a rule that one-element domain names must not resolve any A, AAAA, CNAME, or MX records, on penalty of losing control over the TLD.

I'm currently trying to figure out the right procedure for formally making this proposal.

(Thanks to Version 2 for making me aware of this.)

1 comment:

  1. I love TLD: .food, I want to make a site called: sihendri-love.food