ICANN has come out swinging against blockchain domains and the registrars that sell them. And by “come out” I mean it’s published a blog post. And by “swinging” I mean “offered the weakest criticism imaginable”.
The post starts off well enough, observing that services marketed as “domain names” that are not automatically compatible with the global DNS are probably not a great purchase, because they don’t work like regular domains.
Using these alternatives requires something like a browser plug-in or to reconfigure your device to use a specialist DNS resolver network, the post notes, before concluding with a brief caveat emptor message.
All good stuff. ICANN has been opposed to alt-root domain efforts for at least 20 years, and the policy is even enshrined in so-called ICP-3, which nobody really talks about any more but appears to still be the law of ICANN Land.
So, which domain-alternatives is ICANN referring to here, and which registrars are selling them? The post states:
Name resolution systems outside the DNS have existed for a long time. One could mention the Sun Microsystem Network Information Service (NIS), the Digital Object Architecture (DOA), or even the Ethereum Name Service (ENS)…
With some ICANN-accredited registrars now selling NIS, DOA, or other similar domains alongside standard domain names, the potential for confusion among unsuspecting customers seems high.
You may be asking: what the heck (or, if you’re like me, fuck) are NIS and DOA domains, and which registrars are selling them?
NIS is an authentication protocol (a bit like LDAP) for Unix networks developed in 1985 (the same year the original DNS standard was finalized) by Sun Microsystems, a company that hasn’t existed in over a decade.
To the best of my knowledge they’ve never been marketed as an alternative to regular domain names. Nobody’s ever used them to address a publicly available web site. Nobody sells them.
DOA, also known as the Handle System, is a more recent idea, first implemented in 1994, before some of you were born. Handles are mostly numeric strings used to address digital objects such as documents. Libraries use them.
The main thing to know about Handles for the purposes of this article is that they’re specifically designed to convey no semantic information whatsoever. They’re not designed to look like domain names and they’re not used that way.
So how many registrars are selling NIS/DOA domains? I haven’t checked them all, but I’m going to go out on a pretty sturdy limb and guess the answer is “none”, which is a lot less than the “some” that ICANN asserts.
But ICANN also mentions the Ethereum Name Service, a much newer and sexier way of cybersquatting, based on the Ethereum cryptocurrency blockchain.
ENS allows people to buy .eth domain names (which do not function in the consensus DNS) for the Ethereum equivalent of about $5. As far as I can tell, you can only buy them through ens.domains, and no ICANN-accredited registrar is functionally capable of selling them.
The ICANN post also contains a brief mention of “Handshake”, and this appears to be what ICANN is actually worried about.
Handshake domains, also known as HNS, look like regular domain names and a handful of ICANN-accredited registrars are actually selling them.
Handshake is also based on blockchain technology, but unlike ENS it also allows people to create their own TLDs (which, again, do not function without special adaptations). Registrars including Namecheap, 101domain and EnCirca sell them.
It’s Namecheap’s storefront hover text, warning that HNS domains don’t work in the regular DNS, that ICANN appears to be paraphrasing in its blog post.
The registrar has a lengthy support article explaining some of the ways you can try to make a Handshake domain work, including an interactive comment thread in which a Namecheap employee suggests that DNS resolvers may choose to resolve HNS TLDs instead of conflicting TLDs that ICANN approves in future.
That’s the kind of thing that should worry ICANN, but it’s got a funny way of expressing that concern. Sun Microsystems? Digital Object Architecture? What’s the message here?
Twenty years ago, I interviewed an ICANN bigwig about New.net, one of the companies attempting to sell alt-root domains at the time. He told me bluntly the company was “breaking the internet” and “selling snake oil”, earning ICANN a snotty lawyer’s letter.
Today’s ICANN post was ostensibly authored by principal technologist Alain Durand, but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume comms and legal took their knives to it before it was published.
While some things haven’t changed in the last two decades, others have.
The post ICANN takes the lamest swipe at Namecheap et al over blockchain domains first appeared on Domain Incite.