While in Brussels, I had the chance to participate first-hand in one of ICANN’s international meetings. One of the sessions I attended yesterday was the “New gTLD Program Update.” George Kirikos, who many in the ICANN community know and appreciate for his knowledge and commitment to improving ICANN, submitted a question via remote participation about an important paper Tim Berners-Lee wrote back in 2004 about the detrimental costs of new gTLDs (at the time, .MOBI and .XXX were among the group of proposed extensions). Berners-Lee is an engineer and computer scientist who is credited with inventing the World Wide Web (the system that links hyertext documents over the Internet, not the whole Internet itself – Al Gore would be very offended if I didn’t make that distinction). The paper is very insightful, and especially applicable today, as ICANN is on the verge of opening up the domain name system (DNS) to an unlimited amount of new gTLDs. The paper is not very long and completely worth reading, but one of the most salient points I took out of it is the following:
“Our first instincts, then should be not to change the system with anything but incremental and carefully thought-out changes. The addition of new top-levels domains is a very disturbing influence. It carries great cost. It should only be undertaken when there is a very clear benefit to the new domain. In the case of the proposed .mobi domain, the change is actually detrimental.”
A big thanks goes out to George for showing me this paper, and also for pointing out how ICANN has ignored its existence. To my knowledge, George has not heard from anyone at ICANN after he sent a message about the Berners-Lee paper and linked it to the current environment. They also dodged his question during the session, so I wanted to shed light on this subject:
According to Kirikos, the DNS is a tree structure with a single root, and it was widely agreed that such a structure was an improvement over the previous “flat space” of host names. Infinite new gTLDs would be a movement backwards into that flat space. ICANN is basically on its way toward institutionalizing this backward movement, and in turn, cause widespread instability and harm.
In my view, ICANN’s proposal for how to roll out new gTLDs will create needless chaos and instability in the DNS. New gTLDs could potentially be interesting to brands and to the greater Internet community, but ICANN is not creating an attractive environment for businesses to invest in. Rather, brand owners will spend money in order to protect themselves from infringement, but that spending does not equate to an “investment” in new gTLDs. It is likely that many brand owners will view new gTLDs as a financial burden, instead of an economic opportunity.
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