Author Archives: rrader

Thoughts on ICANN’s ‘Open’ Domain Namespace

I recently did a brief interview with Tom Sullivan of Fox Business News on the topic of ICANN’s recent move to open up the namespace and create a large number of new top-level domains. I’ve been somewhat distracted by personal endeavours for the past month, so the interview gave me the opportunity to really think hard about what ICANN’s decision means for the industry and where it might leads us in the next three to five years or so.

icann.jpgNew TLDs mean new competition:

New competition is a “really good thing” in this market. For too long the registry management space has been dominated by a very small number of players. Lack of choice hampers innovation. Worse, it has lead to increasing prices for what is otherwise, a commodity product. It may not happen immediately, but I believe that increasing the number of competing TLDs will keep rising prices in check, and possibly even lower them over the longer-term. Further to this, not a lot of innovation is coming out of the existing players. .MOBI, for instance, has done some interesting things, but no one is really going out on a limb and doing exciting things with a TLD. Give everyone the capability to get a TLD and I guarantee you, interesting things will start to happen.

The namespace will finally internationalize and personalize:

Since the origins of the Internet, domain names were limited to ASCII strings. This restriction will quickly evaporate as IDN TLDs come into existence and we will see massive growth in non-English, non-ASCII, top-level domains serving various communities. This is huge by itself! Making it even bigger is that the additional choice will make it even easier for regular people like you and me to get a meaningful domain name that relates to our personal identity. When .INFO opened up, the first thing I did was register rader.info because I had missed out on rader.com, net, org and ca. The mass market represents a huge growth opportunity, but I don’t think that .com, .net, .org, and the others have enough upside left to adequately capitalize on the demand it represents. New TLDs and innovative use of existing TLDs will make it easier to tap into these opportunities.

New TLDs are great for trademark holders:

They just don’t know it yet. Right now, rights holders are rabidly opposed to new TLDs because they believe it will create a nightmare for them in terms of protecting against trademark abuse in all of these new TLDs. On its face, the argument looks valid. After all, it’s tough to protect Tucows’ trademarks and copyrights in a small handful of top-level domains. Creating hundreds, or even thousands, of new top-level domains makes it almost impossible for us to protect ourselves, right? Sort of. The UDRP will still be in place to deal with any inevitable abuse, but there is a real opportunity here for rightsholders that I don’t think has been properly recognized yet.

This announcement clears the way for big brands to create their own top level domains and build trust mechanisms into those domains that will go a long way towards getting the upper hand in the rights battles that are occupying so much of their time. What I mean is, Chase Bank will find it a lot easier to create a trusted online service relationship with their clients if they do it within the context of a .chase top-level domain. It won’t eliminate phishing, but it will raise the bar. Over time, I believe internet users will start finding meaning in top-level domains that doesn’t exist today. The same way an average computer user recognizes the difference between .jpg, .xls and .pdf files, they will also recognize the difference between a .com, .fox and .nike domain extension.

New TLDs will force software developers to deal with security issues:

I don’t necessarily think that new top level domains are going to make it easier for phishers to phish, spammers to spam and scammers to scam. But I think there are enough people that are worried about this that it will force the issue to some sort of a resolution. The first step lies with the browser and email client vendors. Implementing URL authentication and verification tools will take some time and trial and error, but I think it will be a great development for overall consumer satisfaction and safety.

ICANN should, and will, get out of the way:

The Internet is a decentralized, unregulated space. Domain names aren’t. ICANN needs to get out of the way as much as possible and allow the namespace to develop its own characteristics along the same lines as the rest of the Internet. ICANN has been a centralized chokepoint for far too long, mostly at the behest of telco interests. This move clears the way for ICANN to do more coordination and less regulation. Strangely, this development comes at a time when most are calling for ICANN to regulate even more. I don’t think that this is either practical or desirable and will have strong negative effects on the viability of the DNS over the long term if they go this route.

This isn’t really news for .com domainers:

Domain names are a little bit like real estate. Quality domain names will always be quality domain names. Short, memorable, easy to spell – all hallmarks of a great name. Great names with great extensions, like fox.com will always be great. But, for specific purposes, perhaps fox.news is a better name? It all depends on what you want to use the name for and how strong your existing brand is. I don’t think that this necessarily leads to any sort of real negative impact on .com name valuations, but it will create new opportunities for buyers and sellers.

Overall, I don’t think that anyone actually recognizes the true size of the opportunity that is facing the Internet. I’m quite excited at the prospects hinted at by this announcement and look forward to capitalizing on as much of it as possible.

Tucows gets out of Shared Webhosting

Many of you know me as one of the original OpenSRS guys, but more recently, I’ve been involved in running Tucows retail services – Domain Direct, NetIdentity and ItsYourDomain. As you may have already read, effective today, we are getting out of the hosting business. You can read the full press release in our Media Archive.

Why are we doing this and what does it have to do with you?

From a retail perspective, we believe that it is extremely important for us to be able to provide world-class quality for all of the services we offer. By examining the market, seeking feedback from our end users, and discussing our strengths and weaknesses internally, one thing became clear. In order to provide world-class quality for all of the services we offer, we must simplify our service offerings.

Many of our competitors attempt to provide a “one-stop internet services shopping experience”. We call this “the Walmart way”. We believe that we have a much higher chance at succeeding by doing very few things extremely well for our clients. You could call this “the boutique approach”. Our goal is to help our customers use their domain names and email addresses with the great services that other companies are already providing. In other words, rather than trying to compete with companies like Hostopia to offer better hosting services than they do, we are going to focus on making sure that our products work better with their great services than any other provider does.

Tucows Resellers also benefit from this increased focus. My retail team spends a lot of time with the OpenSRS and Tucows Email teams to ensure that they understand where their services are succeeding and failing from a reseller perspective. Being in the building provides us with a great opportunity to improve these services for the benefit of all Tucows resellers. With the benefit of our increased focus, we will also be able to invest more time working specifically on translating everything that we are learning about how to sell domain names and email in a competitive market into programs that Tucows resellers will be able to take advantage of. These programs could take the form of new code, new services and new marketing programs, depending on what works best in each case.

I’m very pleased with this development as I really believe it will be of tremendous benefit to all of Tucows customers – retail and resale. Of course, if you have any questions about the specifics of the transaction, please feel free to leave us a comment and either myself, or someone from the team will respond.

And of course, we will be notifying all affected customers about this change and how it will affect their hosting service – if at all. Many of our shared hosting clients are already hosted with Hostopia, so the changes should be minimal for the vast majority.

Tucows continues fight for domain name portability

After a long wait, ICANN has issued a much needed clarification describing how it interprets its domain name portability policy.

icann.jpgTucows has been an advocate of strong domain name portability policy since the early days of ICANN. We believe that consumer choice is a fundamental element of a healthy market. Without strong domain name portability policies the domain market will never be as strong as it should be.

The debate dates back to the early days of ICANN. Network Solutions, still owned by Verisign, had 100% market share. They were also the only registrar. By the end of the first full year of domain name competition, their market share was almost cut in half, falling to just 52.9% market share. At this time, fewer than 1 in 5 customers were choosing to do business with Network Solutions.

The former monopoly had serious problems to address.

The primary driver of this massive loss of market share was the substantial drop in domain name prices that Tucows introduced into the market in January, 2000. At the time domain, the early competitive registrars and Network Solutions, were selling domain names for $30-$35 each. We sold our first name as an accredited registrar on January 16, 2000 for $10 making us the first competitive registrar to seriously compete with NSI for real market share. NSI has since reduced their prices to closer match the market but they are still viewed by many as a high-price provider.

When faced with these prospects, most business owners react with a competitive response – new pricing, special promotions, enhancing features, etc. Network Solutions reacted by making it as difficult as possible for domain registrants to transfer their business to one of the newly created registrars. Instead of working harder to keep their customers, they were going to make it impossible for their customers to leave.

Tucows advocacy resulted in ICANN adopting a set of domain name portability policies entitled “Inter-Registrar Domain Name Transfer Policy”. In its earliest form, draft versions of this policy proposal were actually modeled on Tucows transfer practices which continued to be viewed as a benchmark for the industry. While the new portability policy had widespread support amongst the community, Network Solutions, Go Daddy and Register.com strongly opposed its adoption.

Network Solutions and GoDaddy reacted by implementing more obstacles for customers who wanted to leave and try a new provider. They claimed these restrictions would enhance “consumer protection” and “security” but the net result was simply that it became a lot harder for registrants to transfer their domain names away to new providers.

These customer hostile policy abuses continue into the present day.

This is why Tucows especially welcomes this clarification from ICANN. This advisory specifically addresses many of these policy abuses and provides greater recourse for our staff to help our customers in resolving domain transfer related issues. Provided that ICANN backs up this advisory with clear enforcement against those ignoring its advice, it should become easier for duly authorized registrants to safely and securely transfer their service to a new provider.

Net Neutrality Panel @ alt.telecom Forum

Last weekend, I presented as part of a panel discussion on Net Neutrality at the alt.telecom.policy.forum

Here are my slides via Slideshare

My message was simple: Net Neutrality isn't a new issue, nor is it over. The fight for the basic rights that the Internet's end-to-end architecture give us are being slowly but surely taken away from us by Big Media and the Bellheads. We need to be aware of this and take specific steps to ensure that we don't lose anything else, or better, turn the tide.

Apologies for some of the formatting. Keynote doesn't have a great Powerpoint export, and Slideshare only supports PPT uploads.

Tucows’ Best Dressed Cow Hallowe’en Competition

Tucows is holding a “Best Dressed Squishy Cow” competition as part of our Hallowe'en fun and games. The contest is only open to staffers, but I thought you'd like to take a look at Ian Hall's submission on behalf of the retail services team..

Yes – that's a *real* 5 milliwatt laser and a *real* plasma backdrop (voice activated even). Ian actually did all the work, but the retail team is definitely jumping in to share the credit :) It looks like there's going to be some stiff competition this year. We're also holding a pumpkin carving contest as well. I'll definitely post some more video and photo's of the various entries as the competition progresses as I'm sure others will as well.

Tralliance seeks ICANN permission to introduce Sitefinder 2.0

Tralliance, the good folks that brought you .TRAVEL, are looking to implement something they are calling “search.travel” in the .TRAVEL TLD. 

ICANN Opens Public Comment Period on the Tralliance Proposed New Registry Service

– via ICANN.

ICANN's own Security and Stability Advisory Committee, SSAC, is saying that they don’t find any material difference between this proposal and Verisign’s Sitefinder implementation.

Bret Fausett has some thoughts about this on his blog as well.

In the spirit of getting involved, it would be great if you took the time to let ICANN know what you think of this proposal and took part in their public comment process.

Poll: Americans don’t want net neutrality (or maybe they don’t know what it is)

I really find the whole Net Neutrality debate somewhat disheartening. There are two sides to this debate, one rooted in the realities of the way the internet works, and one rooted in trying to “optimize” the internet to the advantage of a very specific set of applications (video and voice traffic) offered by a very few providers (primarily large network operators). Unfortunately, one of these sides seems to have gained the rhetorical upper hand and seems to be controlling the current tone and tenor of the discussions.

A nationwide survey of 800 registered voters is being touted by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation because it purports to show that Americans are not interested in net neutrality legislation.

– via Ars Technica

 Of course internet users aren’t interested in net neutrality legislation – most internet users don’t have a clue of how the internet works, ought to work and was designed to work.

I personally don’t have an issue with whether or not you want to apply QOS or traffic shaping to your packets, but please, leave mine along. The internet is not a cohesive thing, it is a series of interconnection agreements between various independently operated networks and a series of technical protocols outlining how those interconnects should happen for maximum interoperability. Just because you might own the wires, doesn’t mean that you own the bits.

My biggest problem with the entire situation is that it is largely an artifact of bad regulation. In my opinion, the FCC and CRTC aren’t doing anyone any favors with their 3rd party access and hi-speed internet regulatory policies. Competition between a small number of players with very large market share isn’t competition. Competition between DSL and Cable isn’t competition. True competition can only happen in the absence of over-reaching regulation. Which can’t happen in an environment where the very large players have had the benefit of regulatory protection for far too many years.

The regulators need to get off the pot with this one. We must demand that either strong legislation that protects the internet is enacted, or we must demand that protectionist regulation is dismantled to ensure that everyone has a chance to benefit from the unique opportunities that the internet has to offer.

Getting Involved in CIRA

Mark Jeftovic of EasyDNS makes some great points about the CIRA Board of Directors election currently underway. CIRA is the organization responsible for running the registry and managing the policy for the dotCA ccTLD.

During my 3-year tenure on the CIRA Board, I got the opportunity to travel across the country. Whenever we held a public forum anywhere in Canada, the turnout was usually quite high and the participants informed and enthusiastic.

Then near the end of every open forum I made it a habit to ask the attendees the following question: “How many people here voted in the last election?” and the silence was usually deafening. Less than 10 hands would go up every time, guaranteed.

So why the disconnect between getting live bodies out to an actual event and getting stakeholders to click a few buttons through their web browser?

– via Mark Jeftovic

Historically, a very small number of people were responsible for casting the votes for the candidates that get elected to the CIRA Board – less than 1000 votes were necessary to get elected in past elections. This really needs to change – the bar should be much higher, which means more members need to get involved.

I'm actually a candidate in this election and if you are a CIRA member, I'd really appreciate it if a) you would get involved in this election, and b) support my candidacy by casting a vote in my favor.

I’m going to resist the temptation to turn this blog post into a shameless self-promotion, so if you are interested in my “platform”, you can read more here, here and here. If you have any questions about how to cast a vote or about specific issues raised by my platform, please be sure to drop me a line!