Rob Kerry Speaks on Internet Liberalisation

I asked Rob for a quote regarding Internet Liberalisation as discussed over at Gandi, the ethical domain name provider. Most of the quotes went here, but I thought Robs’ was worthy of a post of his own.

If you don’t know who Rob Kerry is and you are in SEO, hide your embarrassment and quickly go over to evilgreenmonkey.com to check him out.

Rob Kerry

It is my personal opinion that the plans being discussed by ICANN to open up an endless supply of TLDs (Top Level Domains) is careless and unnecessary. Domain names were created as a more human-friendly alternative to IP addresses and designed much like a phone book. The internet’s root nameservers act as the library, telling us which phone books are available. In the good old days, there was a company phone book (.com), an organisation phone book (.org), a network phone book (.net), US Military (.mil), US Government (.gov) and country specific phone books which are known as ccTLDs (country code Top Level Domains).

Although not everyone played by the rules (e.g. blip.tv is not a video website from the island of Tuvalu), life was simple and sites tended to do exactly what they said on the tin. Trust and security was delivered through convention, with the UK company, BBC, owning bbc.co.uk and the global non-profit/charity organisation Wikipedia owning wikipedia.org. Value was also created in generic domains, where owning doctor.com was seen as a precious asset, just like having a Harley Street address or a Royal Seal of Approval. Even financial institutions and investors recognised the asset value of domains, which often appreciated whilst other more traditional assets such as cars and technology depreciated. Names were traded, auctioned, and you could even get a loan secured against the more expensive and sort-after domains.

The web continued to increase in popularity and ICANN was getting pressured into opening up new domain extensions to meet this demand. The outcries for more TLDs came mostly from businesses that were small or newcomers to the web, disgruntled that they could not register the likes of amazon.com or hotels.com. ICANN caved into this pressure which was back up by many of their members who were keen to have more domain products to sell, creating extensions such as .biz, .info, .coop, .pro, .museum and more.

If you register a company in the UK or US, you cannot choose the same name as an existing company. Being able to register the company Amazon Ltd when Amazon Limited already existed would be misleading and confusing to the public, so would registering amazon.biz when amazon.com existed. If you cannot trade under the same name in the same country, why should a US/Global business be able to trade under a .biz when a .com website already exists?

Does either website really benefit, or does brand dilution negatively effect the trust and value of both sites?

If a first time home buyer cannot afford a 6 bedroom house in London, is the solution to keep building 6 bedroom houses until their value depreciates to a level that the first time home buyer can afford? Or should the first time buyer recognise that they can only afford a 1 bedroom apartment in a surrounding area for now and move-up as they grow? Similarly, what gives a small business the right to own poker.con, just because they cannot afford to buy-out poker.com?

Brands large and small were required to buy more and more domain names with the previous TLD free-for-all, simply to protect their trademarks, names and products on each new TLD. Whilst some TLDs such as .coop and .museum were heavily regulated, .info and .biz were open to brand hijacking and speculative purchases.

Opening up the market wasn’t as successful as some people had hoped, with a low number of domain registrations made for the purpose of hosting new websites and confusion over the new domain extensions by the general public. Special offers started popping up, with registries of the new TLDs desperate for user recognition and future income to cover their outlying costs. At one point, the .info registry even offered domain names to registrars and their customers absolutely free for a year, hoping that income would finally arrive when the domain names came up for renewal the following year. Free is always a popular proposition, although did not do what the registry was hoping. Black Hat SEOs, email spammers and phishing criminals proceeded to register hundreds or thousands of domains each. Google was flooded with auto-generated low-apr-credit-card.info style websites, using “churn and burn” techniques to acquire long tail search traffic and ad revenue. Inboxes were swamped with spam email from a different .info domain each day, trying to avoid domain-based blacklists. Our friends in Nigeria and Russia created their own credit card and bank log-in pages on .info typos, most of which were already protected on .com and local ccTLD extensions. The .info TLD did indeed make itself more widely known, but not in a good way. You would be foolish as a business today to opt for a .info domain for your main website, as it does not exude trust, stability or a professional image.

Who are the biggest recent successes on the web? Digg.com? Facebook.com? Twitter.com? Maybe it will soon be Bing.com? Notice one thing in common? Rather than worrying about owning social.com or search.com, the big successes of the last 12 months have been creative and established their own brand. If Microsoft opted to use an original .com name rather than lobbying ICANN for a .search TLD that they could use, why can’t Joe Bloggs Shoes Inc. do the same?

Does the view of ICANN and its members really represent the views, ideals and opinions of internet users as a whole, or are they blinded by the for-profit domain name registration companies that fund them?

When Google became an ICANN registrar, SEOs quickly started to make assumptions about their plans and reasoning. Some predicted that Google would start registering domain names and hosting DNS to collect further data and power, despite telling shareholders that they would reduce non-search related projects and concentrate on their core product offerings (Android does fit into this aim). Others discussed how Google could use their registrar status to track and monitor domain names operated by SEOs. Maybe they actually wanted to just have more of a say in how the web works, with the multi-billion dollar company fully reliant on it. How much extra work does it cause for search engines when everyone is trying to game their algorithm with “exact match domains”? How can they differentiate NHS.gov.uk from NHS.england, if NHS.england acquired tens of thousands of value passing backlinks?

The question should also be asked about where the line is drawn for new TLD requests and who decides where the line is. You’d hope that ICANN would reject applications for .con, .comm and .couk, but who decides whether .england is allowed? If I sank a few hundred thousand dollars into lobbying ICANN and getting approval for .england, or take-over the dormant .gb ccTLD, how will that dilute and damage the solid reputation of the .uk ccTLD that Nominet has worked so hard for?

I support the use of new TLDs for future non-www technologies such as food-ordering fridges, auto-piloted cars and VoIP phones. It makes sense to use separate TLDs for technologies that are not accessed via a web browser. But I do not think that creating more under-utilised web TLDs will do anything other than create a greater misunderstanding amongst internet novices and a substantial amount of mistrust.