ICANN Goes .bonkers

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In the early days of the dotcom delirium, I frequently found myself railing against the idiocies of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body that took over the running of the Internet's name system from the engineers who had lovingly – and successfully - tended it for decades. Then things went quiet, and I assumed that it either got bored fiddling unnecessarily, or maybe that sanity broke out.

I was wrong. ICANN is back, with what is probably its most stupid idea yet:

The Board of ICANN today approved a recommendation that could see a whole range of new names introduced to the Internet's addressing system.

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This proposal allows applicants for new names to self-select their domain name so that choices are most appropriate for their customers or potentially the most marketable. It is expected that applicants will apply for targeted community strings such as (the existing) .travel for the travel industry and .cat for the Catalan community (as well as generic strings like .brandname or .yournamehere). There are already interested consortiums wanting to establish city-based top level domain, like .nyc (for New York City), .berlin and .paris.

This will be a disaster both for businesses on the Net, and their users.

For the former, it means that domain names will turn into a kind of protection racket: every so often, somebody will come up with some new domain – things along the lines of .mug, I imagine – that all companies will be invited to sign up for, just to protect their trademarks, you understand.

For end-users, the already-confusing system of domains will become utterly impossible to grasp. This means that phishing schemes and generally-fraudulent Web sites will become almost trivially easy to implement. The public simply won't know which domain name to trust, with the result that confidence in e-commerce, and maybe even the entire Web, will collapse.

So why is ICANN doing this? Here's the best they can come up with for a justification:

It represents a whole new way for people to express themselves on the Net

Oh yeah, right: that's what the naming system is all about, isn't it? Self-expression.

Actually, the real motivation behind this is pretty obvious: more domain names means more money for people selling them – notice the phrase “most marketable” in the quotation above - and more power for ICANN. The fact that there will be a Gadarene swine-like rush to register names in these new and dotty domains, with you and me trampled underfoot, is a tiresome detail for these ICANN gods, who are able to rise so magnificently above such trivia.

To be fair, one element of its proposals is welcome – but long overdue:

"One of the most exciting prospect before us is that the expanding system is also being planned to support extensions in the languages of the world," said Peter Dengate Thrush, ICANN's Chairman. "This is going to be very important for the future of the Internet in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Russia." The present system only supports 37 Roman characters.

It is only right that cultures based around non-Latin scripts should be able to name Web sites in ways consonant with their language and writing. But the rest of ICANN's plans are just plain .bonkers

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