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Subject: IP: Gillmor on ICANN (4/2) - Dot-DNS could be the first step to loosenICANN's grip on Net

  • From: Dave Farber <>
  • To: ip <>
  • Date: Wed, 03 Apr 2002 11:59:38 -0500

Dot-DNS could be the first step to loosen ICANN's grip on Net
By Dan Gillmor
Mercury News Technology Columnist

The head of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers,
acknowledged recently that the organization is basically a mess. Finally,
there was something ICANN and its legion of critics could agree on.

Created in 1998 at the behest of the U.S. government, ICANN is supposed to
guide the crucial ``domain name system'' (DNS), which helps computers on the
Internet find each other. The DNS and its administration have become highly
political, and ICANN itself has become largely a tool of corporate and
trademark interests.

Here's how it works now. An Internet domain, such as, is
actually listed in central computers as a series of numbers (
The DNS is, among other things, a translation tool.

The .com (dot-com) top-level domain has become the default domain of choice
for commercial sites, leading to all kinds of conflicts. There's more than
one business with the name Ford, for example, but only one domain.

ICANN's governance has reflected its powerful constituents. A plan for
serious public participation has been a joke. And ICANN's imperious ways --
including the bizarre refusal to allow a board member to see internal
documents, adding to the impression the non-profit corporation has something
to hide -- have fueled the mistrust with which many on the outside view the

Three respected voices on the Net, David J. Farber, Peter G. Neumann and
Lauren Weinstein, recently posted a letter on the People for Internet
Responsibility site ( urging that ICANN be
replaced with something more workable. They're right, but it won't happen,
because powerful interests want to keep things pretty much the way they are,
and there's no obvious crisis to motivate political leaders who could push
for serious change. We're stuck with ICANN for now.

If ICANN really wants to make things better, it should make itself less
visible, even boring. This is not a contradiction. ICANN's problems stem in
large part from its position as a potential choke point and power broker. If
the organization can get itself out of people's way during the next few
years, it will have done a huge public service.

One helpful start might be to adopt an intriguing idea from a technology
pioneer, Bob Frankston, co-inventor of the electronic spreadsheet.

Frankston says ICANN should create a new top-level domain -- he would call
it dot-DNS -- that would have a single trait. It would consist solely of
numbers before the dot. For example, a domain might be called
123456789012345.dns or 543210987654321.dns.

No domain in this hierarchy would expire or, in most cases, change
unexpectedly. Even if the owner stopped using it, or died, or went out of
business, it would never be given out again (unless, presumably, the owner
agreed to sell it or give it away).

Frankston says the point is to split the technology from the words
themselves -- separate the plumbing from its meaning.

If enough people signed up for dot-DNS domains, they would help create a
system less subject to jockeying by powerful interests -- and potentially a
more stable system to boot.

How would anyone find anything? Well, there's always Google or any other of
the search engines that are cleverly indexing individual pages deep inside
sites, not just the home pages. In fact, this is what most people do

Crucially, dot-DNS would not replace dot-com, dot-org or any other current
top-level domains, at least not for a long time to come. It would be an
addition, and Frankston is predicting it would be a valuable one.

Frankston has posted a summary of his ideas online

There are risks in this approach, as several people pointed out during a
discussion of the matter at the recent PC Forum technology gathering in
Arizona. The keepers of the directories could become the new choke points,
for example -- and one of those would be our favorite monopolist, Microsoft,
which would inevitably try to abuse its position.

This small move wouldn't fix ICANN's problems. It would be a small start,
however, and a valuable one.

AS THE STOMACH TURNS I have no idea whether Hewlett-Packard engaged in any
chicanery when it persuaded a big shareholder to switch sides at the last
moment to support the buyout of Compaq. I do know that Walter Hewlett and
the owners of approximately half of the HP shares who voted against the deal
deserve to find out.

HP is understandably trying to squash Hewlett's post-vote lawsuit, in which
he alleged the unfunny business. The company will argue for a dismissal on
Sunday in a Delaware courtroom. The speedy hearing is essential, and

But the judge, William Chandler III, gave Hewlett the right to examine
relevant documents concerning Deutsche Bank's eleventh-hour conversion to
the HP deal. That's also essential.

Meanwhile, the official count continues.

And so does a soap opera that grows more depressing by the day.

The HP move this week to evict Hewlett from the board of directors is simple
retribution. It's also understandable, but it highlights the company's shift
in recent times, from the humanistic ``HP Way'' to a more mean-spirited

If the deal goes through, I'm starting an office pool. The winner will pick
the year and month when HP moves its corporate headquarters to Houston.

Dan Gillmor's column appears each Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday. Visit
Dan's online column, eJournal ( E-mail; phone (408) 920-5016; fax (408) 920-5917.

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