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RE: Thoughts on top-level domains, esp. .mobi

From: r_olson <r_olson@pacbell.net>
Date: Thu, 6 May 2004 08:55:22 -0700
To: <www-tag@w3.org>
Message-Id: <20040506155532.93858A1FB7@frink.w3.org>

I worked for ICANN as a technical evaluator on the first batch of new TLDs,
in late 2000.  Many of the issues TBL raised in his note were raised at that

To me, TLD (and SLD) names do have semantic significance, and have done
since the earliest days.  I was recently in Estonia, where people are proud
of their .ee domains.  In effect, they are getting some branding value from
association with the country.  The same goes for .edu or .org.  Saying that
this is technical nonsense is pointless, in my view.

In my evaluations, the challenge in approving new TLDs with semantics-laden
names came from assessing their proposed technical means to reasonably
ensure that the semantics could be enforced.  

In the specific case of .xxx (.sex, etc.), the primary proponents were
people who were opposed to the use of the web to distribute what they
considered immoral content.  The idea was that a .xxx domain would
ghetto-ize such content and make it easier to police.  However, they offered
no mechanism to keep such content out of other domains.  Since money is the
primary motivator for most distributors of such content, I saw no reason why
the distributors would voluntarily restrict themselves to the ghetto.  

In the specific case of child-related domains (.kids, etc.), I saw the same
difficulty, only in reverse.  While it was reasonable to assume that SLD
licensees could be constrained contractually to "appropriate" content, I saw
no reasonable technical means to ensure that only such content could be
available through pages on the site.  Specifically, if links outside the
.children domain were allowed then it was reasonable to assume that a child
could follow them to "inappropriate" content.  Not allowing links outside
the domain required an AOL-like closed community, violating the very
principles that make the web useful.  A second very difficult problem was
dealing with cultural differences.  Topics of interest to early-teens
American boys are anathema to many in the groups sponsoring these domains,
for example.  We could see no technical means to enforce the semantics of
the TLD.

I also saw no particular need for new TLDs to address the societal
objectives of the sponsoring groups.  I felt that most could be accomplished
through appropriate SLDs.  For example, I saw no particular value in a
.museum TLD, as the same goals could be accomplished through .museum.org.
Social integrity for child related domains in the US could be achieved
through .kids.us or .teens.us. or even .christian.kids.us.  I believe that
what was really going on was a belief that creating a new TLD would serve as
a public statement endorsing the social objectives of the sponsor.

However, I did feel that there was value in new TLDs where the semantics
could be enforced.  Two come to mind.  One was a TLD that was organized
rather like a business directory, such as .cpa.professional or
.dentist.professional.  Since it was reasonable to assume that some
filtering was possible as part of the licensing of the third level domain
name, it was likely that the semantic integrity could be maintained and thus
create value.  The other was a proposal from SRI to create a TLD where the
SLDs were coordinates on the globe.  This is a radically different way to
bring geography back to the Web.  While an argument could be made that this
could be done in an SLD, I felt that it was sufficiently different that
making it a TLD would reduce confusion and simplify implementation.

I have not looked at the .mobi proposal.  On the surface, though, it feels
to me as if it has the same difficulties as the .kids TLDs - no way to
enforce the semantics and no way to ensure that links out of the domain
would be "appropriate" for the semantics of the TLD.

My other observation is that the policy makers at ICANN have an
extraordinarily difficult job.  Virtually every decision is laden with huge
economic implications and is contested by people with powerful political
resources.  I am impressed that they manage to maintain the level of
integrity and commitment that they have demonstrated, and don't envy them
their jobs.

Robert Olson

> -----Original Message-----
> From: www-tag-request@w3.org [mailto:www-tag-request@w3.org] 
> On Behalf Of Tim Berners-Lee
> Sent: Wednesday, May 05, 2004 1:21 PM
> To: 'www-tag@w3.org'
> Subject: Thoughts on top-level domains, esp. .mobi
> In writing up some problems as I see them with the proposed 
> .mobi top level domain, I found i had half the document full 
> of general reasons why new domains are a bad idea, which 
> would apply to many if not all of the new proposals, and the 
> other half specific problems with .mobi.
> The writeup is at http://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/TLD
> Comments welcome -- I intend to send it to the formal comment 
> list next week.
> This is a personal view only.  It is not a W3c view.  I would 
> recommend that others also send their feelings to the official list.
> Tim Berners-Lee
> ICANN Public comment form:
> http://www.icann.org/tlds/stld-apps-19mar04/stld-public-comments.htm
> RFP:
> 	http://www.icann.org/tlds/new-stld-rfp/new-stld-rfp-24jun03.htm
> General comments:
> 	stld-rfp-general@icann.org
Received on Thursday, 6 May 2004 11:56:54 UTC

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