MediaFilter on Mon, 19 Oct 1998 19:05:41 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> DNS: Long Winded and Short Sighted

In his essay "DNS: A Short History and a Short Future" Ted Byfield paraded
a relentless procession of arguments against a free and open namespace. 
Many of his arguments are based on flawed assumptions and personal taste
and do not in any way represent a consensus on the part of individual
users of the internet.  In his attempt to cover all bases in one breath,
Ted has shown us that he has a great love for the internet and he would
like to freeze it in time like the body of Lenin, to preserve it in its
purest sense for future generations. 

Such sentiment is admirable, but not necessarily shared by the rest of the

The answers below in no way represent an exhaustive deconstruction of Mr.
Byfield's text, but a general response to some of his most eggregious


>So, for example, when Procter and Gamble decided to apply "brand
>management" advertising theories to the net, it registered
>rather than simply incorporating into its network
>addressing. And so did the ubiquitous competition, including the
>prospectors who set about registering every commercial domain they could
>cook up. The follies of this failed logic are everywhere evident on the
>net: thousands of default "under-construction" pages for domain names
>whose "owners"--renters hoping to become rentiers--wait in vain for
>someone to buy their swampland:,,,
>,, and so on, and so on.


The failure of domain name use policies is no reason to preclude the
availablity of choice and such limitations on toplevel domains should not
be decided based on such "what if" scenarios.  There are existing bodies
of law to deal with this and the enforcement of those laws will provide a
basis for self regulation.  Prudent policies must be implemented in order
to minimize infringement and litigation while maintaining equitable rights
on both the private, non-trademarked rights to a domain name as well as
the rights to the trademark holder.  We believe that Name.Space has
pioneered in those and other areas of policy through practice. 


>Under the circumstances--that is, thousands of registered domain names
>waiting to be bought out--claims that existing gTLD policies have resulted
>in a scarcity of domain names are doubtful. In fact, within the ".com"
>gTLD alone, the number of domain names registered to date is a barely
>expressibl e fraction of possible domain names, such as "":
>~2.99e+34 possible domain names *within ".com" alone*, or ~4.99e24 domains
>for every person on the planet; if these were used efficiently--that is,
>elaborated with subdomains and hostnames such as
>""--the number becomes effectively infinite.


Most people most likely don't want domain names like
"" it doesn't make any sense and is difficult to

"Name.Space" or "Blackout.Books" is certainly more desirable.  This is
what people want according to the feedback we get from clients.  Nobody
ever asked for "" out of thousands of requests as far
as I know.  New TLDs are "in" and it's what people want. 


>*Of course* there are territorial squabbles over claims to names and
>phrases. And *of course* some people and organizations profit from the
>situation. But we don't generally erect a stadium in areas where gang
>fights break out; so one really has to ask whether it's a good idea to
>restructure gTLD architecture--supposedly the system that will determine
>the future of the net, hence a great deal of human communication--to cater
>to a kind of business dispute that's in no way limited to DNS.


Adding new tlds does not restructure the DNS architecture.  New TLDs have
the same structure as any other, as all zones in the DNS are equally
scalable.  Adding new TLDs has no adverse technical impact on the function
of the DNS.  Businesses as well as individuals want to have a cool, easy
to remember web address and they are willing to pay for it.  There are
many companies who are ready to provide this service but are prevented
from doing so due to the denial of access to an essential facility, the
"." file, a violation of the US Antitrust laws.  This market exists and
the access to domain names at low cost to individuals is being denied
because of illegal behavior by Networks Solutions and several other non-
party co-conspirators who are dividing the market amongst the big players
and governments at the exculsion of individual private companies who have
invested in development and implementations of new services for internet


>Moreover--and *much* worse--where commercial litigation is now limited to
>registered domain names, an open namespace would invite attacks on the use
>of terms *anywhere* in an address. Put simply: where
>and are now invulnerable to litigation, in an open
>namespace Apple Computers and Sun Microsystems could easily challenge
>"" and "who.loves.the.sun".


This argument has been tried and has failed so many times.  It's even too
tired to go back and dredge up all the counter information on this point.
Case law on infringement is clear in that the use of a name has to be
intentionally misleading and substantially similar in use as to confuse
and mislead.  New anti-dilution clauses in the trademark law broaden the
scope of potential infringement, but there has yet to be a case to my
knowledge where Sun Microsystems requested anyone to cease and desist
using the word "sun" in their hostname, as in or  If anything, it's free advertising for Sun. 


>Neither proposed reform *necessarily* serves anything resembling a common
>good. But both proposed reforms will provide businesses with more grist
>for their intellectual property mills and provide users with the benefits
>of, basically, vanity license plates. The net result will be one more step
>in the gradual conversion of language--a common resource by definition--
>into a condominium colonized by businesses driven by dreams of renting,
>leasing, and licensing it to "users."


If users want vanity license plates, then they should have them.  If
business want their trademark as their web address, then they should have
them.  What you are arguing is simply a matter of taste and not a matter
of law or technology.  If you don't want to have a "vanity" domain name,
then don't have one.  That is no reason why anyone else can't or shoudn't
have one, especially if there is no practical or technical reason why they
can't have a domain of their choice, and you the domain of your choice in
the legacy aesthetic.  Both coexist without mutual exculsion. 


>It doesn't, however, follow that the status quo makes sense--it doesn't.
>It's rife with conceptual flaws and plagued by practical issues affecting
>almost every aspect of DNS governance--in particular, who is qualified to
>do it, how their operations can be distributed, and how democratized
>jurisdictions can be integrated without drifting being absorbed by the
>swelling ranks of global bureaucracies. The present administration's
>caution in approaching gTLD policy is an instinctive argument made by
>people happy to exploit, however informally, the *superabundance* of
>domain-name registrations.


Then WHAT do you want? Many people have been working for more than
two years to address these issues and come up with workable solutions.
What have you done except make a lot of noise against any change?

The superabundance is making NSI rich and further empowering the
privatized intelligence community to erode privacy even further.
Time for an economic shift away from the IC.


>Without doubt, the main instabilities any moderate gTLD policy reform
>introduced would be felt in the administrative institutions' funding
>patterns and revenues. More radical reforms involving more registrars
>would presumably have more radical consequences--among them, a need to
>certify registrars and DNS records, from which organizations with strong
>links to security and intelligence agencies (Network Associates, VeriSign,
>and SAIC) will surely benefit. The current administration insists that an
>open name space would introduce dangerous instabilities into the
>operations of the net. But whether those effect would be more extreme than
>the cumulative impact of everyday problems--wayward backhoes, network
>instabilities, lazy "netiquette" enforcement, and human error--is


The reason why the US Government chose to privatize the DNS administration
was so that fees from its use could fund the operations and not US Tax
Dollars. I believe that it is a good thing and it also presents new
economic opportunites for independent networks to fund their
infrustructure through the fees charged for name registrations and relted

The certification of registrars and DNS records is already on the
development horizon and is a natural development in the course of
decentralization of the DNS.  Not only is it practical, but it will
happen.  I have spoken to several engineers specifically on this issue,
most notably, Dr. Paul Mockapetris (the scientist who *invented DNS*)
during a telephone call in August, 1998 where his response was:  "give the
project to a few computer scientists and they will make it..." 

Certification agencies don't have to be Verisign or SAIC.  There are
opportunities for other independent CA's to be established.  It wouldn't
be a bad idea for the arts community to set up a Certification Agency as
an independent alternative.  It would also be a great source of revenue
with a relatively low overhead.  A good model to subsidize a network
infrastructure with the certification fees, which would leave a large
amount of *surplus bandwidth* that could serve *content* and *support its

The present system *IS* the Department of Defense and the US Intelligence
community! Decentralization is the first step to *REMOVE* the centralized
control that the US DoD and the Intel community now maintain.  Do you want
them to remain in control?  There are ways to work around them which they
can't legally prevent.  A lot of money is being spent on PR to divert
attention from the real issues of Privacy, Free Speech, and Access related
to the DNS. If you are going to advocate the cause of the DoD and the NSA
you should at least collect a check from them. 


>There is one point on which the status quo *and* its critics agree: the
>assumption that DNS will remain a fundamental navigational interface of
>the net. But it need not and will not: already, with organizations
>(,, proprietary protocols (Hotline), client and
>proxy-server networks (, and search-engine portal advances
>(RealNames,, we're beginning to see the first signs of
>name-based navigational systems that complement or circumvent domain


This assumption is based on lack of understanding of the low-level nature
of DNS and how that impacts access.  Protocols such as RealNames are
"higher-level" protocols which still make calls to the DNS in a way
similar to how DNS maps domain names to ip numbers.  The DNS must still be
established before the RealNames can work.  It's a question of level of

A toplevel domain requires two basic elements to function:

1) Listing in the or "." file that runs on a globally
   recognized nameserver.  The listing in the "." file consists
   of the toplevel domain and the names and ip numbers of the
   computers that hold the "zonefile" for that TLD.

2) A Zonefile which lists all the second-level domains under the TLD.
   The second-level listings consist of the second-level domain and the
   names and ip numbers of the computers that hold the zonefile for the
   second-level domain.

The "." file tells the rest of the net which TLDs are active and which
computers to query for name to ip mappings under those TLDs. 

If a TLD entry in the "." file is deleted (the "." file is a simple text
file that the namserver software reads in) the TLD will disappear from the
rest of the internet.  Conversely, if a new TLD is created and it is not
listed in the "." file, it will not be found on the net. 

With the stroke of a delete key, whole countries can be blacked out from
the rest of the net.  With the "." centralized, this is easily done.  With
the "." decentralized such a deletion is not unilaterally possible. 
Control the "." and you control access.  Control the content of the "."
and you also control the market. 

What we have developed in Name.Space is users control over their own
domains.  Control over your domain means greater control over your access.
In cases such as, when their equipment was seized, had they the
control over their domain records, they could have nearly instantly set up
resources in almost any other location.  Instead, their provider held
their records and their *content* was gone.  What the domain name does is
provide *portability* and the ability to transparently *route content*
regardless of where the physical server resources live.  The domain name
is the *key to the content* and is therefore essential. 

There have been many developments in our lab to enable greater control
over ones own content and access based on creative uses of domain names
and existing protocols and server configurations.  Web relays, email
forwarding, soft virtual hosts, and soon secure dynamic dns.  All of these
developments work now with both legacy domains (com. org. net.) as well as
new TLDs (art. space. zone.).  The technology is always ahead of users and
markets, and necessarily so.  The next phase is to educate the users on
how to empower themselves on the net through access and control of their
own domain and server resources, with respect to their privacy and free

Some experts insisted that humans would never reach the moon...Bill Gates
once said that 640K is more memory than anyone would ever need... Ted
Byfield said we don't need new TLDs--"" will do just
fine, thank you. 

I disagree.

--Paul Garrin

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