|About The Inclusive Namespace|
What's In a (DOMAIN) Name?
Internet users are most familiar with web page addresses ending in .COM. The suffix .COM is called a top-level domain (or TLD for short). You may be aware that there are other TLDs as well - such as .NET, .ORG, .MIL, .EDU and two letter codes representing the nations of the world. Recently, several new TLDs were created.
In 1995, just as the internet was getting the attention of the public, ADNS along with other companies and organizations proposed the creation of more TLDs. Many agreed that this would be a good idea, but the discussion soon got bogged down in broader discussions about the direction of the internet as a whole.
Committees were formed and then went out of existence, proposals were drafted and then abandoned. trillions of bytes of chatter have crossed the internet and have filled up dozens of discussion groups, with mostly non-sense and off-topic noise.
Back in 1995, to solve the problem of inaction by those running the root name servers on the internet, ADNS and other created our own root server networks and added new TLDs. Anyone wanting to use these new TLDs could simply change the settings on their computers to use these "inclusive" servers rather than the US Government servers. Anyone that wanted to create a new TLD, simply had to set up name servers and a registration process (usually a web site) for the TLD and notify the root server operators who would then add the TLD to their servers and presto - a new TLD was born.
In September 1995, ADNS first tried to get the managers of the US Government root network to add its new TLDs (at the time .USA and .EARTH), but they did not add them, even though we had a fully operational registration system and name servers for our TLDs. You can see that our applications were some of the first ones if you look at the famous "List Postel", a list of applications received by Jon Postel, the person who was in charge of making these decisions back then. The list, officially know as The IANA's File of iTLD Requests is still available online. ADNS is listed as the third and fourth entries.
Year after year went by and many registry operators in the inclusive namespace continued to develop their registration facilities and invest money in their businesses.
In 1998, the US Government entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a California non-profit company called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to manage certain critical infrastructure such as IP addresses and domain names. ICANN was to set up a process in which new TLDs could be added to the USG root network. Finally, it looked like there was light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, ICANN was nothing more than a disguise to allow a small group of entities to take control of the internet namespace for their own private purposes and profit.
Before going into the details of how bad this has really been for the internet, lets talk about some basic domain name technology.
All machines on the internet need a numerical address to talk to other machines on the internet. These numbers are called IP addresses. You may have seen them - they look something like 18.104.22.168 or 22.214.171.124 - always 4 numbers separated by three dots. The Domain Name System (DNS) is a way to assign names to machines - names that are easier to remember. When you type a URL such as "amazon.com" into your browser, your machine has to look up the address. When you dial your internet service provider, your ISP's computer sends your machine a list of IP addresses of their name server machines. When you enter a URL in your web browser, your browser asks Windows for the numerical IP address of the requested web site. Windows sends a message to the name server machine with the name of the desired site and the name server returns the IP address. Your browser can then talk to the web server and will fetch the web page for you.
Each domain must have a name server that has all of the data about the machines that are in the domain. In order for your ISP's name servers to find out what name servers have the information for the domain of the web page you requested, they need to ask the server of the domain above the requested domain. In the case of WWW. AMAZON.COM, for instance, this is "AMAZON.COM", In order however, for it to find AMAZON.COM, it needs to first find COM. COM is called a top-level domain since there is no way to break the name down further, there is only COM. In order, however, for the name server to find the servers that have all of the information about COM, it needs to ask a set of root servers for the address of the servers that have the list of all COM domains. When a name server machine boots up, it must have a list of root server addresses, so that it can find other machine addresses. There are 13 root servers in the US Government root server network. Some of them are run by volunteers at universities, some at government installations. All of them get their list of TLDs and server addresses from a single master root server called the Alpha Root. Whoever controls the list of TLDs in this machine basically determines what TLDs exist and who owns them.
The U.S. government controls the Alpha Root (known as A-ROOT). The company that until recently had a monopoly on registering domains in the COM, NET and ORG domains, Network Solutions, Inc, runs the A-ROOT for the U.S. government, but cannot add new TLDs without government permission.
How The Inclusive Namespace Servers Work
As mentioned above, in 1995, a group of people created their own root server network to facilitate the creation of new TLDs. Back then, if you wanted to get an idea accepted by the internet community, you would put together a demo and place it online for people to use. If it worked, they would accept it. This concept was referred to as "Rough Consensus and Running Code". In other words, if it didn't hurt anyone and was of value, and you could show that it worked, then it was ok. These root servers worked just fine and they were accepted by a number of people.
More than one "alternative" root server network was created. Some are still around (ORSC, PACROOT and others) while others (eDNS) are no longer with us.
Technically, these root networks operate the same way as the USG root: An Alpha-root server has the master list of TLDs that are recognized by that network and all of the other root servers in that network get their list from the Alpha-root. Any ISP that wants to use a certain root network would give their name servers the addresses of the root servers that they want to use. The customers of the ISP would then see the list of TLDs in that particular root network.
The term "Inclusive Namespace" refers to the fact that these networks carry not only the original TLDs like .COM, .NET and .ORG, but also carry the thousands of other TLDs operated by numerous registries.
The term "collision" refers a case when there is more than one version of a TLD in existence on the internet. This can occur when one root server network recognizes one version of a TLD while another network recognizes a different version of the same TLD. Collisions are very bad because you can have a situation where more than one version of a domain can exist. For instance, if Registry A operates TLD ".ABC" and is listed in one root server network and Registry B also operates a version of ".ABC" and is listed in another root server network, then there is the possibility of there being two different versions of domains, say DOMAIN.ABC, one registered with Registry A and one with Registry B.
In this case, what website will you get when you go do WWW.DOMAIN.ABC? That depends on what root server network your ISP is pointing to. This is an annoyance for the internet user, but is costly for the website owner. A website operator spends a lot of time and money trying to get his website address out to the public. What is he to do when there is a duplicate version of his domain name in another version of a TLD? How can he control what web page comes up in a user's browser? When colliding TLDs are present, this kind of problem can occur.
It is a cardinal rule that COLLIDING TLDS ARE VERY BAD. Those in the inclusive namespace work very hard to avoid and resolve collisions because of how many problems they cause.
Unfortunately, ICANN, supposedly charged with preserving the stability of the internet, created the biggest collision in internet history when it created a colliding version of the .BIZ TLD. More on that below.
Differences in Content Between the Root Networks
You may be wondering what the differences in content are between the various root networks. First of all, almost all root server networks include the basic .COM, .NET and .ORG. That is, they include the real, original versions of these TLDs - the ones operated by ICANN/USG. This means that if you use an inclusive namespace root network, you will see all of the same COM, NET and ORG domains that are in the ICANN/USG root. They also include the ISO "Country Code" TLDS (ccTLDs). These are the two-letter TLDs that represent the nations of the world (i.e.: .US, .CA, .UK, .FR). There about 200 of these.
Beyond that point, content can differ. The more widely used networks include all known TLDs that exist. If a collision exists, they implement their own policy as to which version to include. There is a trade organization of TLD operators called The Top Level Domain Association (TLDA). Its website is at www.tlda.net. This organization is working on a comprehensive list of all known TLDs and will also give its opinion on which version of a colliding TLD should be recognized as legitimate. This will be based on objective criteria, such as first-come, first serve, as in the case of all other domains on the internet.
There are some root server networks that are designed for use in a specific geographic area. In this case, they may include TLDs that are relevant to that area only. Notice that missing TLDs are not as big a problem as collisions.
The biggest collision issue that the namespace is dealing with is the .BIZ collision cause by an irresponsible decision on ICANN's part to create a colliding version of .BIZ. ADNS was contracted by the legitimate .BIZ TLD holder, The AtlanticRoot Network Inc, to operate the registry for .BIZ and we have received no end of e-mails from angry web users who are not getting the websites that they want. This is a real world example of what happens when you allow collisions.
The two biggest inclusive namespace root network are The Open Root Server Consortium and PacificRoot. The main difference between these two is that PacificRoot has a large number of TLDs operated by one particular registry that are not carried by ORSC. ADNS operates one of the ORSC root servers, known as ASLAN.OPEN-RSC.ORG or H.ROOT-SERVERS.ORSC.
In 1998, ICANN was created and entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Department of Commerce. This MoU covered the move of IP address and domain management from the US Government to the private sector. This MoU called for the USG and ICANN to jointly design the transition of IP address and root server management from the USG to the private sector. Part of this MoU called for substantial input and authority to rest with the internet community. Throughout this document are statements that require the decisions to reflect the needs of all of the internet community
Almost immediately, ICANN strayed far away from the letter and spirit of the MoU. In short, ICANN was captured by a group of entities whose narrow special interests do not match those of the Internet Community as a whole. ICANN is currently controlled by four entities: The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Verisign, Affilias and Neulevel/Neustar.
WIPO's agenda is the most frightening. They want control over the internet namespace so that they advance their narrow agenda of protecting the interests of their rich intellectual property interests. They are the key advocate of the UDRP (Universal Dispute Resolution Protocol). If you want to register a domain in any ICANN controlled TLD (including .COM) you cannot do so unless you agree to be bound by the UDRP. This means that your domain can be taken away from you if one of WIPO's members files a complaint against you claiming that they should have the domain because it is their "intellectual property". Most inclusive namespace TLDs do NOT force their registrants into this policy. The worst part of it is that you cannot get a domain unless you agree to this hideous policy. One study that looked at the UDRP decisions show that they overwhelmingly favored the rich WIPO members over the domain holder. In a famous example, WIPO tried to claim that the word "Barcelona" was a protected word and attempted to steal a domain from a company operating a travel website at BARCELONA.COM. The matter is still tied up in court.
The other three entities that control ICANN have monopolistic profits as their motive: Verisign is the currently registry operator for .COM, .NET and .ORG. Affilias has the registry contract for .INFO and Neulevel runs the colliding version of .BIZ. Neustar is the parent of Neulevel and they operate the .US country code TLD.
Their motive is to shut out any more TLDs because this would dilute their market share. As long as there are only a handful of generic TLDs and as long as they control them, they get all of the profits. Although there is competition at the retail level, there is not a variety of names available.
The scarier part of this is that four organizations have a stranglehold over one of the central chokepoints on the internet. The internet has been described as the most open and widespread medium for communication and self expression ever devised. One of the features of the internet is that it is not controllable by any one group. If one link is taken down, it can be routed around. The root server network is a chokepoint that can be used to control various activities on the internet. Most people use names to access websites and e-mail. Although you can access a website with an IP address, most people wouldn't have a clue as to how to find the IP address of their favorite websites. This makes it nearly impossible for them to navigate on the internet without names. This also holds true for e-mail addresses and other uses of the internet.
Whoever controls the content of the Alpha-root server controls what you can and cannot see. Having this power in the hands of four organizations, all of whom have a questionable (i.e.: nonexistent) concern for the greater good of the internet cannot be tolerated. This is one of the main criticism of ICANN.
ICANN has shown a consistent pattern over the years of trying to shut out ordinary internet users from the decision making process. This would be necessary for the four entities to maintain their control over the organization and thus the namespace. Part of their agreement with the USG is that they will have free, fair and open elections for the majority of the members of the ICANN Board. Almost from day one, they have shown contempt for this process and now propose a new ICANN structure that completely shuts out ordinary internet users from any say in how the namespace is operated.
THE GOOD NEWS is that in reality, ICANN really has NO authority. The only control they have is over those who still use the USG root server network to translate their names to IP addresses. Although the Inclusive Namespace root networks were created to add new TLDs when the process was going too slow, they now serve a new purpose: to provide an alternative to the stranglehold that ICANN has over the namespace.
What Can You Do? What does this mean to Me as an Internet User or ISP?
If you would like use Inclusive Namespace servers, you can visit either ORSC or PACROOT. On these sites are instructions on how to configure your computer to use their root server networks. Your ISP does not need to make any changes. You as an individual user can change your computer's settings to go around your ISP's choice for root server networks. The changes are simple and only take about 2 minutes. The most important thing that you can do is to TELL ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS AND ASSOCIATES ABOUT HOW TO DO THIS. The more people that switch, the less power ICANN will have.
If you are an ISP and would like to test out one of the inclusive namespace networks, you can get instructions on the ORSC or PACROOT websites on how to change your root.cache file on the resolver name servers that you provide for your customers.
What does this mean to Me as a Website Operator?
Your main question is probably one of visibility. "How many people will be able to see my website if it has an address in a non-ICANN TLD"? There are differing statistics on how much of the internet uses the inclusive namespace, but current estimates place it between 12 and 25 percent. One thing that we can say for sure is that we have seen a 50% increase in traffic on our ORSC name server since the start of 2002.
It probably would not be wise to create a website whose sole address is within non-ICANN TLDs since you would be limiting your exposure to at most 25% of the internet users. Although inclusive namespace use is growing rapidly, it is still limited at this time.
The strategy that a lot of site managers are using is to create multiple addresses for their website. For instance, a site operator running ABC.COM can also have an alias address in, say ABC.USA and ABC.ETC. There isn't really any limit to the number of aliases that you can have for your website.
Having an Inclusive Namespace address for your website also gives you the ability to get a name for your website that is more descriptive of the content. If you sell widgets, you probably found that WIDGETS.COM is taken, and you needed create something like WIDGETSFORSALE.COM instead. Nice, short, descriptive names are best for website addresses. In the inclusive namespace with so many TLDs, WIDGETS is probably available in one of them.
Many TLDs suggest specific content, such as XXX for porn and SHOP for general merchandise. You may find that you want an alias in a TLD that matches your industry.
Another thing to consider is the fact that visibility of inclusive namespace TLDs is growing. As it does, more people will register domains in these TLDs and the chance that your company name or product name will be taken in all of the good TLDs will increase. Almost all of the "good" .COM domains are taken, but this is not currently the case in inclusive namespace TLDs. By reserving your domains now, you can keep others from registering your product or company name. You don't need to give up your .COM and the visibility that comes with it, while protecting your product and company name by registering a domain in selected inclusive namespace TLDs. When visibility gets greater, you can start advertising your inclusive namespace address as well.
With more content and usage comes more web surfers. This in turn will entice other website operators to get inclusive namespace domains. This "upward spiral" effect will cause a continuing rise in usage of Inclusive Namespace domains. You can also have e-mail addresses with inclusive namespace addresses like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
ADNS has been in business since 1995 and has been providing registration services in the TLDs EARTH, USA, Z and AMERICA. In addition, ADNS provides registry services for TLDs held by The AtlanticRoot (BIZ, COM2, ETC, NOT and ONLINE) For more information, contact ADNS Customer Service
Copyright 1995-2002 AGN Domain Name Services, Inc.
September 4, 2002