After years of waiting, it seemed like we were on the verge of seeing the first new gTLDs delegated by the end of the summer holidays. The ICANN meeting in Durban came and went without the fireworks we saw in Beijing, after the Government Advisory Committee's legendary Communique cast doubt on a whole host of new gTLD applications. As we moved into summer, ICANN busily worked through its "to do" list, solving some of the issues the GAC had flagged, and even made a couple of bold decisions, such as the ruling over the application for .amazon.
It all seemed too good to be true when four registries sat on the stage in Durban and signed their ICANN agreements. This was real. This was happening. And then, just like a professional assassin, the hit came when we were least expecting it. On their weekly calls, ICANN referred to a report that in truth was being circulated in the previous few weeks from an organization called Interisle Consulting. They had done their research (if you can call analysing eight terabytes worth of data research and not a lifestyle choice) and highlighted something that those who had a responsibility for the infrastructure of the internet should have known years ago – Name Collision.
Name Collision is when two resolving terms are identical yet serve different purposes. Think of it like using lead (as in what a leader does) and lead (as in the metal). Both have the same properties and you cannot differentiate between them unless you see the context. That is what a Name Collision is in the domain name world.
Our internet habits have changed over time. We've become lazy and now we don't like to search using a search engine. It's all Google's fault, as they have made it too easy for us by allowing us to search in the browser - open up Chrome (or Firefox) and start typing what you want to search for in the browser bar and results will start to appear before your eyes. Google can even predict our questions before we've typed the entire word. Very clever chaps those Googlytes. But here-in lies the issue. The new gTLDs could potentially divert legitimate traffic away from one source to another; not necessarily in a malicious way, but in a way that will simply cause mass confusion for users and clever machines that inhabit the data centres of the word.
ICANN announced that two applications were as good as dead, because of the potential risk these would cause. The problem with .home and .corp is that they are already used today in the internet. Most domestic routers use a .home address. If you connect your laptop to your wireless router and type home in your browser you will reach the Admin control panel. So what happens if the domain name .home is now delegated for use? How will Google know what we mean? Do we want to change a configuration of our router, or are we trying to reach the home page of a company and have guessed on the fact that they would be using a .home for that very purpose? .Corp is used in many internal networks, including our own. Unless every router manufacturer in the world altered their addressing system and somehow was able to distribute a patch to all users, Name Collision was a major problem.
In addition to the two highlighted applications, ICANN went onto say that around 20% of all applications were in an "undefined risk" state, meaning that there was evidence that the use of their TLD may lead to Name Collision. In some cases, such as .belkin or .cisco you can see why. In others, it takes a deep search on the internet to find some conflicting evidence. The fate of these applications will be decided over the next few months and once more research has been carried out.
Unfortunately, this is a major hurdle for the whole program. For some applicants this may be one barrier too many and they may well have a good legal case to obtain a full refund of their $185,000 after they withdraw their new TLD. Just when we were all in a state of readiness to press the reset button on the internet, we have to pull back once again. One day we will look back at these events and laugh...we hope.
Written by Stuart Fuller, Director of Communications and Commercial Operations, NetNames.