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An Optimistic Point of View on the New Generic Top Level Domains: Possibilities Pointing to a Positive Outlook for the Viability of Regional and Topical Names

2015-08-27 in Uncategorized

A while back I wrote off the new generic top level domains as little more than proprietary fiefdoms for the largest and most exploitative capitalist media conglomerates to reap inordinate profits from (and also to exploit in other ways). I did not actually detail any examples of such exploitation, and since I have very little interest in the vast majority of these new so-called “generic” top level domains, I have also not looked into them closely enough to be able to provide any hard facts in this regard. Let me instead provide a “what if” fictional story… a sort of case study of what might happen if things went terribly wrong.

Suppose, then, just for the sake of argument, that Google’s acquisition of the rights to the “APP” top level domain led the company to become evil, perhaps even sinister. Imagine they would use this top level domain to install spyware and perhaps even stuff like viruses in order to take over the phones belonging people who visited “dot APP” sites. This would probably be so egregious, that even though the NSA might be aided with such privacy violations, the government would surely clamp down and put this sort of industrial espionage out of business, right?

Well, what if the “control” Google forced upon visitors was just a little less blatant? What if, for example, people using Apple iPhones were subjected to a “security check” (but a rather simple one, so no one would have to take off their shoes)? Or what if people trying to use Microsoft Office apps were told these had “security issues” and were forced to use Google Docs apps instead? I do not doubt that at least *some* people might nod off on such strategies of attack… indeed: some might even go so far as to call people who objected to such measures “conspiracy theorists”. I can quite easily imagine a vast plethora of scenarios under which the dot APP top level domain might be something short of a perfectly level playing field.

Granted: I do not doubt that there are some people who would label such cynical realism something else — perhaps a pessimistic point of view. Why not try to be a little more optimistic? Well, this past week one of my friends posted a very interesting status update that got me thinking along these lines — it read: “Create a vision that makes you wanna jump out of the bed in the morning”.

Let me tell you: After the sort of crap that I have been through, this is not an easy task. But I was nonetheless inspired. And so I have now set out to put on some fairy-tale rose-colored glasses and see the world with a view towards a more fair (and perhaps even a pleasant) outcome.

It basically goes like this: Pretend there are people in the world who defy the typical images (of culprits and victims) of capitalistic exploitation… who do *not* seek to profit from the starry-eyed naiveté of noobs, and who do *not* follow the line so often quoted (and attributed to P. T. Barnum) — that “there is a sucker born every minute” (who is ready, willing and able to fall for almost any even just somewhat cleverly designed sales pitch). As a more balanced reflection upon experience will show, this fantasy is rather unrealistic and far-fetched — but what if believing in something like this would make our lives happier, make us more light-hearted, more open, more agreeable to pleasant surprises, more willing to jump at the chance of an opportunity to profit from the riches at the end of a rainbow when it somehow happens to present itself for just a fleeting moment?

Come and take my hand, then, and join me down the path towards the answer to this unreasonable question: “What if the proprietors of these new proprietary top level domains were actually something more than merely hungry for profitable exploitation smoke and mirror gamers, what if they were actually in it for something more than selling opium to the masses, what if the masses were not such gullible suckers?” This seems like quite a formidable wall to scale — and before you give up, let me point out that I think there is actually an easier approach. If just *some* of the masses were less gullible, if there were just a few people who knew how to separate the wheat from the chaff, then perhaps that might some day lead to a situation in which people could learn to fish.

What I mean is: Let’s say there were some people who are able to identify whether a top level domain registry was being run in a fair and reliable manner. They could identify those top level domain registries as good places to register domains, and indeed: Some of the fair and reliably run top level domain registries might even be among the new proprietary top level domains (insofar as some of the proprietors might actually do good or at least sufficiently agreeable work).

Something quite similar to this actually happened this summer when Google apparently endorsed the “dot XYZ” top level domain registry by themselves registering abc.xyz (note that I myself do not necessarily consider the XYZ top level domain registry worthy of my own endorsement — but I think there are many people who are probably more influenced by Google than they might be influenced by me).

I will not discuss whether Google’s apparent endorsement of the XYZ top level domain has any merit — at least not here and now. My main point is that if there were people we could trust — or even better: if we were able to make such judgements ourselves — then we would indeed be in a situation in which we could separate the wheat from the chaff. My experience over many years in this area does not give me a lot of hope, but I want to at least remain open to the possibility of being pleasantly surprised.

Note that (I feel) it is presently far too early for anyone to be able to make any such judgements. The complexity of the issues involved presently outstrips the knowledge imparted by any college degree from any university on Earth — probably many times over. A large part of the complexity involves the simple fact that these proprietary top level domain registry organizations are venturing into completely uncharted territory. For comparison: There is still today almost no clarity with respect to how legal disputes regarding domains in the oldest registries — which are already several decades old — should be resolved.

If there are nearly no guideposts at all for gauging the usefulness of these new proprietary top level domains, the non-existent levels of literacy among the masses of gullible suckers waiting to be exploited is even more dismal … probably by several orders of magnitude. Another example (to give even just a small indication of how vast the extent of illiteracy still is even to this day, despite many years of precendent-setting happening in the traditional top level domain space): Ask anyone what the top level domain “CO” refers to and/or which organization is responsible for maintaining the registry, and not even one in a thousand people will be able to give anything close to a correct answer. Likewise: Despite many years of news coverage, only an infinitesimally small number of people will be able to say which top level domain registries are governed by EU laws (e.g. with respect to right to privacy laws and/or consumer rights). Both of these questions are extremely straightforward, yet the ability to answer them is far beyond the grasp of the mass of men (and women) who merely lead lives of quiet desperation.

No one is teaching them. No such schools exist. Most of the people on the globe hardly have running water — and the countries with the *most highly* educated people seem to be exclusively governed by interests opposed to educating the masses. The only hope I have for this situation to get any better is through the actions of some non-governmental “grass roots” organisation (or group or whatever)… or perhaps (in the most extreme scenario) through the self-education of some extremely motivated self-starters.

For years, this has been the vision that has made me jump out of bed in the morning — and I do agree: It is probably very important not to lose sight of this dream.

If a basic level of literacy were more widespread, I would probably be more optimistic for the near future. As it is, I feel the road ahead will be quite rocky. My ball-park estimate goes as follows: Many thousands if not even many millions of individuals and small-business owners will register regional and topical top level domain names (two subsets of what I refer to as “proprietary” top level domains). Most of these people registering domains will be naive and therefore will not understand most of the legal, business and related other repercussions imposed by these registries. In some cases, rather shady business practices will be permitted. In other cases, innocent consumers will be duped into believing something beyond what is actually being delivered. In each case, a very complex web of stakeholders will be by and large left in the dark about which standard operating procedures are being applied — or even whether any standard operating procedures even exist at all.

There will be many failures — and some of these might even be of so-called “epic” proportions. Companies will go bust, be acquired, merged, etc. — and there will be a great deal of churn and turnover. Large numbers of people, businesses, organizations and other institutions will be ruined, burnt or in some case perhaps just somewhat adversely affected.

Yet (to reiterate) amid all of this chaos, it may very well be that a few proprietary domains will actually succeed and also actually have a positive impact on the global community. I doubt this will happen by itself, but if over the coming decades some initial steps are taken which might increase the rate of literacy a little bit, then the prospects for the future would look much better. I for one am not letting up on my engagement in this space.

The most significant positive possibilities I see for these new proprietary top level domains is the chance for more localization — whether that be a matter of geographic localization (for which I feel the prospects are relatively good), or a matter of topical localization (about which I am much more skeptical — this is an area that requires much more sophistication, and I do not feel there is anyone [or any organisation] who is qualified as “up to the task” in this field).

To give you a glimpse of what I mean, let’s take this quote by Ray King (writing on circleid.com):

Domains using new TLDs are naturally shorter due to much higher name availability and furthermore they are shorter because the extension is not wasted.

For many individuals, small-businesses and mom-and-pop corner stores, this is a significant advantage. Consider how much easier it would be to visit rays.nyc than famousrayspizzanyc.com (and then also consider that it might be much more difficult to ascertain whether Ray’s establishment would meet the criteria required to register rays.pizza — or perhaps rays.deli or rays.restaurant and/or many other possible variants?).

Another interesting question was raised by Cory Doctorow in a very well-written article all the way back in 2001:

Any hierarchy of ideas necessarily implies the importance of some axes over others.

In other words: would it make sense to create a directory of pizza restaurants in New York City at pizza.nyc or maybe at pizza.restaurant.nyc (or maybe at nyc.pizza , nyc.restaurant or some other variant)?

In my opinion, the answers to questions such as these will depend mostly on how well different registries run their business. In my book, it seems like somewhere around 99 percent would receive the grade “FAIL”.

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