Name Stake

 
 
By eweek  |  Posted 2001-04-23
 
 
 

The system of looking up web addresses by their domain names is archaic and doesnt lend itself to commercialization, says New.net, a new domain name company accused of trying to wreck the Internet with an irresponsible marketing ploy.

The politics of controlling "the phone book" of the Internet is always at the center of attention. And no issue stirs the Internet service provider (ISP) and end-user pot more than domain registration. Domains are used to route traffic and let users make their connections on the Web, and serve as a brand identity and business name for most commercial enterprises with an online presence.

For some, New.net — which hatched from the Idealab! Internet incubator last May — is a particularly pungent ingredient in the registration stew.

Responsibility for administering the dot-com, dot-net and dot-org name assignments rests with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a nonprofit company chosen by the U.S. government to manage the Internets domain names.

But New.net, based in Pasa-dena, Calif., has begun to offer ISPs and Web hosters domains that speak more to the nature of the site or service sold — such as dot-chat, dot-kids, dot-shop, dot-sport and dot-xxx, for example. Rather than wrangling with policy and debating what the next top-level domains should be, New.net, which uses software by UltraDNS, trades on public sentiment, collecting "votes" and selling the most popular requested domains, about 20 so far. Some of the names New.net offers were proposed by losing applicants when ICANN was looking for new generic TLDs. ICANN selected dot-aero, dot-biz, dot-coop, dot-info, dot-museum, dot-name and dot-pro, but has not ruled out any other domain names.

The kicker is that New.nets domains are not the same as those sold by ICANN-approved registrars, such as Open SRS, Register.com and VeriSign. Only customers of partner ISPs that have activated New.net domains at the server level and individual users who have downloaded a plug-in for their browsers can access the new sites.

"The technology we are deploying is not dissimilar to [America Onlines] use of keyword within their network: The product pushed out by New.net allows private subscribers on a private network to access information differently," says Darren Johnston, chief strategy and development officer at UltraDNS.

In other words, if a high school soccer team changes its Web address from www.varsityklb.net/~citysec/ylo/club/skick/index_js.html to www.centralhigh.sport, the site could be reached only by customers of ISPs that have interconnected with New.nets Domain Name System (DNS). So far, EarthLink, Excite@Home and NetZero have signed up, with about 16 million users, New.net executives estimate.

New.net recently announced a partnership in which MP3.com will resell dot-mp3 domain names. The deal, New.net says, will encourage users to activate the browser plug-in to gain access to artistname.mp3-type sites.

UltraDNS has its sights set on enabling even more companies to sell unique domains.

New.net domains run $25 a pop, compared with $11 to $17 for traditional top-level names. The UltraDNS software has its limits: The specialty sites cant be used to host e-mail and other transactions, though New.net says this will be fixed in its next upgrade. But more important, individuals accessing the Net though nonpartner ISPs wont be able to reach this potential cache of new sites without the plug-in that appends "new.net" to the proprietary Web addresses and routes traffic to New.nets DNS servers and on to the specialty sites.

New.nets existence worries both large and small ISPs: What would happen if 20 companies such as New.net were to open, creating millions of Web sites that millions of users wont be able to access? And who will try to sort out business conflicts when enterprises register identical domains on different networks?

"I can only imagine the chaos that would ensue if one of these imitators were to try to become the registry for conflicting TLDs," says James Smallacombe, CEO of PlantageNet Internet, an ISP. "The Internet is supposed to be global. There needs to be one central authority for root and the TLDs."

This is just inertia talking, UltraDNS executives say.

"Most of the worry of the intelligentsia in the Internet community is that New.net is in conflict with the ICANN-accredited domains, when it is not," Johnston says. "It is pushing a service that allows private users to access information like you do with cable subscribership."

So, the line has been drawn in the sand between ICANN-approved TLDs that are accessible to everyone on the Net and New.net-type domains that are accessible to the plugged-in few.

But New.net executives hardly think of the company as the equivalent of a local-access cable channel. Instead, they seek international coverage by enticing ISPs to interconnect with New.nets DNS network, which could make their domains as widely accessible as ICANNs.

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