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Fwd: New Top Level Domains Considered Harmful

From: Tim Berners-Lee <timbl@w3.org>
Date: Sun, 16 May 2004 17:58:50 -0400
To: Public W3C <www-archive@w3.org>
Message-Id: <37202954-A784-11D8-937D-000A9580D8C0@w3.org>
Cc: 'www-tag@w3.org' <www-tag@w3.org>
This message doesn't seem to have turned up in the ICANN archives [1,2]
so I forward it this public archives.  It is slightly edited version of 
the earlier message I sent to this list - a bit more about CSS, and a 
mention of support by the W3C TAG.

Tim BL

[1] http://forum.icann.org/lists/stld-rfp-general/
[2] http://forum.icann.org/lists/stld-rfp-mobi/


Begin forwarded message:

> From: Tim Berners-Lee <timbl@w3.org>
> Date: May 14, 2004 14:25:16 EDT
> To: stld-rfp-mobi@icann.org
> Cc: stld-rfp-general@icann.org, tag@w3.org
> Subject: New Top Level Domains Considered Harmful
>
> This is a text version of http://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/TLD as of the 
> time of writing.
>
>                      New Top Level Domains Considered Harmful
>
>      In 2004 there were proposals to create new top-level domains which
>      included .mobi and .xxx. There are major problems with these
>      proposals. There are costs in general to creating any new top 
> level
>      domain. There are specific ways in which the ".mobi" breaks the 
> Web
>      architecture of links, and attacks the universality of the Web.
>
>      At their 14 May 2004 face-to-face meeting, the W3C Technical
>      Advisory Group resolved to support this document, with Norman 
> Walsh
>      abstaining, and Paul Cotton recusing himself.
>
> Introduction
>
>    When the Internet was being collaboratively developed by a
>    substantially technical community around a growing but still
>    manageable Internet Engineering Task Force, the Domain Name System
>    (DNS) evolved as a hierarchical solution to the problem of keeping
>    track of which computers had which Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.
>    The tree structure was an improvement over the previous flat space 
> of
>    host names. It reduced the chaos, by allowing new names to be
>    allocated in sub-domains without recourse to a central registration
>    system. Because the frequency of allocation of new names decreased 
> as
>    one ascended the tree toward the root, the actual cost was kept
>    manageable.
>
>    As email and World Wide Web (WWW) use blossomed and became
>    increasingly important, domain names crept out of the messages 
> syntax
>    for Internet protocols and crept into daily parlance. It then became
>    valuable to own a short domain name. This turned domain name space
>    into a limited commodity. After some tussles for control (ongoing at
>    the time of writing) and some large amounts of money changing hands 
> in
>    some cases, the system has now settled down to a market-based one in
>    which names can be rented, transfer value can be asked by the old
>    owner of the new owner, and one-time and annual fees are typically
>    payable by any domain to any company managing the higher domain. An
>    anomaly was that unclaimed names were deemed to have no owner and no
>    value, and were allocated in a "first come first served" frenzy in
>    which speculators made great profits and held to ransom those who 
> may
>    have been considered the more logical owner of a name. This anomaly
>    created great instability. It has costs, in that any trademark owner
>    had to beware of parties who would register domains which included
>    their trademark. The Example Manufacturing Company had to ensure 
> that
>    it owned not only example.com which it had used for email and Web 
> site
>    for many years, but also example.net and example.org to avoid
>    unscrupulous competition setting up sites to benefit from Example's
>    excellent reputation. As the business grew, Example had to also
>    acquire example.fr and example.co.uk to ensure that confusion was
>    minimized.
>
>    The fact was that the public memory was not for the domain name, but
>    for the brand name which was sandwiched between www and .com. To 
> this
>    extent, in the world of memorable domain names, the
>    hierarchicalization of the domain system had failed to happen. In 
> the
>    public's memory, example was the mark, and the difference between
>    example.com and example.net merely a source of confusion.
>
>    As each node in the tree represents a potentially valuable asset,
>    control of any subset of the tree is valuable. Control of the entire
>    tree is managed by ICANN, which is set up to be a non-profit
>    international institution, with the intent that it should as such
>    carry the trust of the entire community in its efforts to manage the
>    system for the common good. Control of subtrees such as .net, .com 
> and
>    .org is delegated to set of parallel registries whose business model
>    is nominally the charging of registration and annual fees. There 
> have
>    been temptations for the registry companies to consider themselves
>    owners of unclaimed names. Rumors have abounded about systems which
>    would automatically rent a domain name about which a potential 
> renter
>    was inquiring, or would redirect traffic from an unclaimed Web site 
> to
>    their own Web site, and so on.
>
> The Cost of Change
>
>    The top level of the domain name system, and to a lesser extent the 
> IP
>    address space, are the single weak, centralised, points of an
>    otherwise strong, decentralised system. The Internet is a net, and 
> the
>    WWW is a Web, but WWW and email use DNS which is a tree, which has a
>    single root. Although there are many benefits to a system with 
> global
>    identifiers, there are also costs, such as a single common DNS tree.
>    As a community we have all decided that the benefits of the system
>    (such as being able to quote example.com anywhere in the world and
>    have it mean the same thing) outweigh the costs of the social 
> systems
>    required to ensure fairness in its operation. There is, however, 
> great
>    stress. ICANN is under constant pressure to alter its balance of 
> power
>    or modus operandi. It balances technical, academic, commercial, and
>    governmental inputs. The whole issue of domain names has created a
>    vast amount of concern. And because the DNS tree is so fundamental 
> to
>    the Internet applications which build on top of it, any uncertainty
>    about the future creates immediately instability and harm.
>
>    Our first instincts, then should be not to change the system with
>    anything but incremental and carefully thought-out changes. The
>    addition of new top-levels domains is a very disturbing influence. 
> It
>    carries great cost. It should only be undertaken when there is a 
> very
>    clear benefit to the new domain. In the case of the proposed .mobi
>    domain, the change is actually detrimental.
>
> The Economics of Domain Names
>
>    In practice, for most domain name owners, the part between the "www"
>    and the top level domain is their brand, or their name. It is
>    something they need to protect. This means that in practice, a 
> serious
>    organization to avoid confusion has to own its domain in every
>    non-geographical top level domain. For a large company, the cost of
>    this may be insignificant. For a small enterprise, a non-profit
>    organization or a family, the cost becomes very significant.
>
>    The chief effect of the introduction of the .biz and .info domains
>    appears to have been a cash influx for the domain name registries.
>    Example Inc. as mentioned above owns example.com, org and .net. Does
>    it also have to buy .biz, .info, and .name to avoid confusion and 
> the
>    misappropriation of my name by others? Will I have to also rent
>    "example.mobi" in case it want to make information available for
>    people who use wireless equipment?
>
>    The market for second-level domains is a market for a limited
>    resource. After an unstable period when the first come first served
>    system was in play and greedy squatters grabbed domains simply for
>    speculation, it has now settled down. Introducing new TLDs has two
>    effects.
>
>    The first effect is a little like printing more money. The value of
>    one's original registration drops. At the same time, the cost of
>    protecting one's brand goes up (from the cost of three domains to
>    four, five, ...).
>
>    The value of each domain name such as example.com also drops because
>    of brand dilution and public confusion. Even though most people
>    largely ignore the last segment of the name, when it is actually 
> used
>    to distinguish between different owners, this increases the mental
>    effort required to remember which company has which top level 
> domain.
>    This makes the whole name space less usable.
>
>    Is it fair to reduce the value of these domains which have been
>    acquired at great cost by their owners?
>
>    The second effect is that instability is brought on. There is a 
> flurry
>    of activity to reserve domain names, a rush one cannot afford to 
> miss
>    in order to protect one's brand. There is a rash of attempts to 
> steal
>    well-known or valuable domains. The whole process involves a lot of
>    administration, a lot of cost per month, a lot of business for those
>    involved in the domain name business itself, and a negative value to
>    the community.
>
> Fairness
>
>    As we have seen, the choice of a tree structure for domain names is
>    one which has costs and benefits, and the community currently 
> accepts
>    both. The cost of confusion, and of extra name registrations, is 
> high.
>    When the benefits of the new domain itself are small or negative (as
>    we discuss below), then one looks for incentive. The large amount of
>    money that has changed hands for domain names might lead a person to
>    suspect that this was the motivation. Under these circumstances, to
>    increase public trust, proposals from non-profit organizations would
>    raise less suspicion.
>
>    The root of the domain name system is a single public resource, by
>    design. Its control must be for and, indirectly, by the people as a
>    whole. To give away a large chunk of this to a private group would 
> be
>    simply a betrayal of the public trust put in ICANN.
>
> Specific Problems with .mobi
>
>    The different domains are introduced for different reasons, so we 
> must
>    answer this for each one. The [2]ICANN list of proposals gives
>    pointers to the proposals.
>
>       [2] 
> http://www.icann.org/tlds/stld-apps-19mar04/stld-public-comments.htm
>
>    The .mobi domain is described as being for the use of a community. 
> To
>    quote the proposal, the target community for the .mobi TLD is:
>
>      * Individual and business consumers of mobile devices,services and
>        applications
>      * Mobile content and service providers
>      * Mobile operators
>      * Mobile device manufacturers and vendors
>      * IT technology and software vendors who serve the mobile 
> community
>
>    This is in fact a mixture of reasons. It sounds as though there is a
>    use for ".mobi" when the provider of a service intends it to be for
>    the benefit of mobile users. There appears to be a desire to limit 
> the
>    use of ".mobi" to companies -- perhaps those in the group.
>
>    This domain will have a drastically detrimental effect on the Web. 
> By
>    partitioning the HTTP information space into parts designed for 
> access
>    from mobile access and parts designed (presumably) not for such
>    access, an essential property of the Web is destroyed.
>
>   Device Independence.
>
>    The Web is designed as a universal space. Its universality is its 
> most
>    important facet. I spend many hours giving talks just to emphasize
>    this point. The success of the Web stems from its universality as do
>    most of the architectural constraints.
>
>    The Web must operate independently of the hardware, software or
>    network used to access it, of the perceived quality or 
> appropriateness
>    of the information on it, and of the culture, and language, and
>    physical capabilities of those who access it [3]WTW]. Hardware and
>    network independence in particular have been crucial to the growth 
> of
>    the Web. In the past, network independence has been assured largely 
> by
>    the Internet architecture. The Internet connects all devices without
>    regard to the type or size or band of device, nor with regard to the
>    wireless or wired or optical infrastructure used. This is its great
>    strength. From its inception, the Web built upon this architecture 
> and
>    introduced device independence at the user interface level. By
>    separating the information content from its presentation (as is
>    possible by mixing HTML with CSS, XML with XSL and CSS, etc.) the 
> Web
>    allows the same information to be viewed from computers with all 
> sorts
>    of screen sizes, color depths, and so on. Many of the original Web
>    terminals were character-oriented, and now visually impaired users 
> use
>    text-oriented interfaces to the same information.
>
>    For a time, many Web site designers did not see the necessity for 
> such
>    device independence, and indicated that their site was "best viewed
>    using screen set to 800x600". Those Web sites now look terrible on a
>    phone or, for that matter, on a much larger screen. By contrast, 
> many
>    Web sites which use style sheets appropriately can look very good 
> on a
>    very wide range of screen sizes.
>
>    It is true that to to optimize the use of any device, an awareness 
> on
>    the part of the server allows it to customize the content and the
>    whole layout of a site. However, the domain name is perhaps the 
> worst
>    possible way of communicating information about the device. Devices
>    vary in many ways, including:
>      * Network bandwidth at the time,
>      * Screen size and resolution,
>      * Intermittent or continuous connectivity,
>
>    and so on. While with the current technology, the phrase "Mobile" 
> may
>    equate roughly in many minds to "something like a cell phone", it is
>    naive -- and pessimistic -- to imagine that this one style of device
>    will be the combination that will endure for any length of time. 
> Just
>    as concepts such as the "Network PC" and the "Multimedia PC" which
>    defined profiles of device capability were swept away in the onrush 
> of
>    technology, so will an attempt to divide devices, users and content
>    into two groups. Small devices will have high bandwidth. Devices 
> with
>    large screens will sometimes have small bandwidth. Some "mobile"
>    phones will be permanently mounted on kitchen walls. The range of
>    digital assistants will continue to evolve.
>
>    There are good ways to deal with and derive the greatest benefit 
> from
>    the growing diversity of client devices. The adaptation may occur on
>    the client side, the server side, or both. For example, the CC/PP
>    specifications provide a framework for a client device to describe 
> its
>    capabilities in great detail to a server. This is based partly on 
> the
>    UAPROF (User Agent Profile) specifications developed by the mobile
>    phone industry. Also, the HTTP specification has a content 
> negotiation
>    mechanism which allows a device to give a simple profile of its
>    capabilities whenever it asks for some information. Even when a 
> server
>    serves the same static content to mobile and fixed systems, 
> Cascading
>    Style Sheets (CSS) allows specific style information to be applied 
> by
>    hand-held clients only, allowing quite different presentations to be
>    displayed in the two cases. These systems, just a few of the
>    technologies which already exist, leaving aside those which could be
>    designed, are much more powerful than a top level domain name.
>
>    The various documents about the ".mobi" Top Level Domain talk about
>    not only mobile devices but "mobile users" and "mobile businesses".
>    There is an indication that the mobile technology providers feel 
> that
>    while one is mobile, or when one is catering to a mobile customer, 
> one
>    is special or different. This may in fact be motivated simply by
>    attempts to increase the visibility of the mobile communications
>    supplier's name. It may be connected with a hope by the 
> communication
>    providers to gain some control of over information flow to and from
>    mobile users. This would be detrimental to the open markets enabled 
> by
>    the Internet.
>
>    If neither of these motivations are the cause, then perhaps there is
>    an honest belief that being mobile will indeed be best when it is
>    visible to end users. In other words, the mobile communications
>    providers are expecting to declare failure. It is failure when a
>    communications system, in providing connectivity, becomes foremost 
> in
>    the user's perceptions. A travel agent should be a travel business,
>    not a "mobile business". In a reasonable world, the travel agent 
> gets
>    on with selling flights and not worrying about whether a customer is
>    attached by a wire. In a reasonable world, a phone is a phone and 
> the
>    particular electromagnetics used to connect it to another phone are
>    totally uninteresting compared to the fact that a person is 
> connected
>    to another person.
>
>   Damage: Loss of Web Functionality
>
>    But the point is not that a division into ".mobi" and the
>    ("immobile?") rest of the world is futile, it is that it is harmful.
>
>    The Web works by reference. As an information space, it is defined 
> by
>    the relationship between a URI and what one gets on using that URI.
>    The URI is passed around, written, spoken, buried in links,
>    bookmarked, traded while Instant Messaging and through email. People
>    look up URIs in all sorts of conditions.
>
>    It is fundamentally useful to be able to quote the URI for some
>    information and then look up that URI in an entirely different
>    context. For example, I may want to look up a restaurant on my 
> laptop,
>    bookmark it, and then, when I only have my phone, check the bookmark
>    to have a look at the evening menu. Or, my travel agent may send me 
> a
>    pointer to my itinerary for a business trip. I may view the 
> itinerary
>    from my office on a large screen and want to see the map, or I may
>    view it at the airport from my phone when all I want is the gate
>    number.
>
>    Dividing the Web into information destined for different devices, or
>    different classes of user, or different classes of information, 
> breaks
>    the Web in a fundamental way.
>
>    I urge ICANN not to create the ".mobi" top level domain.
>
>    Tim Berners-Lee
>
>
>     Cambridge, Massachusetts, 14 May 2004
>
>      _________________________________________________________________
>
>    See also:
>
>    [UW]: Berners-Lee, T., Universality of the WWW, Japan prize
>    commemorative lecture, Tokyo, 2004. [4]slides]
>
>       [4] http://www.w3.org/2002/Talks/04-univ/slide1-3.html
>
>    [WTW]: Berners-Lee, T. [5]Weaving the Web, Harper, San Francisco,
>    1999.
>
>       [5] http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/Weaving
>
>    [IJ]: Jacobs, I.: [6]Why Using TLDs for Filtering is Ineffective,
>    Harmful, and Unnecessary Public communication. 2004
>
>       [6] http://www.w3.org/2004/03/28-tld
>
>      _________________________________________________________________
>
>    [7]Up to Design Issues
>
>       [7] http://www.w3.org/DesignIssues
>
>    [8]Tim BL
>
>       [8] http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee
>
Received on Sunday, 16 May 2004 17:58:58 GMT

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