Esther Dyson, the inaugural ICANN chair from October 1998 to November 2000, has come out again against new generic Top Level Domains saying in an article for the Project Syndicate that new gTLDs do not “actually create any new value.”
“The value is in people’s heads – in the meanings of the words and the brand associations – not in the expanded namespace. In fact, the new approach carves up the namespace: the value formerly associated with Apple could now be divided into Apple.computers, apple.phone, ipod.apple, and so on.”
Dyson believes “this sounds confusing [and] that is because it is.”
However one has to wonder why is this any more confusing than the 230 or so ccTLDs around the world, most of which the vast majority of internet users would almost never encounter. The same could be said for many of the proposed gTLDs. On city or regional gTLDs, if I am living outside of Germany it is likely I will only encounter a TLD such as .BERLIN or .PARIS unless I actually am seeking information on the city.
But Dyson believes “all of this will create jobs, but little extra value. To me, useless jobs are, well, useless. And, while redundant domain names are not evil, I do think that they are a waste of resources.”
But it is easy to say they are useless jobs. There are plenty of useless jobs in the world if you personally do not get any benefit from what is being done or produced.
There are also plenty of useless products. Stephen Colbert in February parodied the number of toothpaste varieties available in the US – there were 412 of them and that there were now only 352. Colbert expressed mock outrage that “the plummeting number of toothpaste varieties [infringed on his] right to brush each of his 32 teeth with its own individual toothpaste!” (For some, the geographically blocked clip is available here)
But we do not limit the number of toothpaste varieties available when surely ten would be plenty to give everyone choice. And people cope with such variety of toothpaste – they do not go home confused without any toothpaste because there were too many varieties.
Personally I think there will be successful and unsuccessful gLTD applications, and even those that get online. There will also be others that are neither, that get by and make enough money to continue.
Dyson goes on to say that “when ICANN started more than ten years ago, we were accused of commercializing the Internet. In fact, we were building an orderly market, setting policies for how much registries could charge, fostering competition among registrars, and making sure that we served the public interest.”
“Unfortunately, we failed to deliver on that promise. Most of the people active in setting ICANN’s policies are involved somehow in the domain-name business, and they would be in control of the new TLDs as well. It’s worth it to them to spend their time at ICANN meetings (or to send staffers), whereas domain names are just a small part of customers’ and user’ lives. And that means that the new TLDs are likely to create money for ICANN’s primary constituents, but only add costs and confusion for companies and the public at large.”
Dyson concludes saying “the DNS will lose its value over time, and most people will get to Web sites and content via social networks and apps, or via Google (or whatever supersedes it in the competitive marketplace). The bad news is that there could well be much superfluous expense and effort in the meantime.”
But maybe these changes, if Dyson is right, are all part of evolution. There will be change and it is likely the vast majority of predictions for 20, even ten, years time will be wrong.
Esther Dyson’s article is widely reproduced online, but originally appeared on the Project Syndicate website at www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/dyson35/English.