Last week I reflected on the dismal state of the Internet, and how the mighty of the e-commerce world have fallen. Although it obviously cannot be held responsible for that decline, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) (www.icann.org/) has certainly mirrored many of the worst aspects of the dotcom feeding frenzy.
The latest moves in the Icann saga involve the question of the so-called "at-large" membership. In essence, these are the ordinary users, and the issue is how their Icann representatives should be chosen. The suggestion ( www.atlargestudy.org/draft_final.shtml ) is that only those with a registered domain should be allowed to vote. At the moment, anyone with an e-mail address is eligible to participate.
One of the curious reasons given for such a move is that the current system "does not effectively handle many people in regions that use non-Latin script". But this seems to be precisely the situation for domain names, which only now are beginning to allow non-Latin scripts.
The big difference between the two approaches is that creating an e-mail account is often trivial and practically without cost, whereas setting up a domain involves both effort and money. This means that the new system will tend to discriminate against those parts of the world where Internet access is still a novelty and often a luxury, and place more power in the hands of rich Westerners.
Another worrying proposal is that the number of at-large directors be reduced from one half to one third of the total number. The overall effect is therefore a double blow against the representation of ordinary Internet users. In this, Icann shows once again how little it understands the Internet culture.
Icann's management of the domain name system is particularly pertinent at the moment, since some of its new top-level domains ( www.icann.org/tlds/ ) are going live, introducing new non-geographical domains for the first time.
Perhaps the most important of these is the new .biz domain ( www.neulevel.com/index.html ). The process for registration did not bode well. There was an initial phase for registering intellectual property claims ( www.neulevel.com/countdown/step1.html ), followed by the registration itself ( www.neulevel.com/countdown/step2.html ). The company's justification for the extra cost involved was that pre-registering in this way allows companies to contest registrations more simply ( www.neulevel.com/countdown/stop.html ).
But some - notably Amazon.com ( www.nic.biz/aboutnl/08142001.html ) - have objected to the whole approach, which employs a randomised selection process to choose among competing applications. Amazon's complaint is mostly about trademarks, and is an early indication that the new .biz domain is likely to exacerbate an already troublesome problem for companies in their online activities.
The only real reason for registering under the .biz domain is fear that cybersquatters might do the same. But now that the trademark dispute policy - one of the few areas where Icann seems to have come up with something that works reasonably well - is up and running ( www.icann.org/udrp/udrp.htm ), companies have no need for such pre-emptive registration. If need be, they can always challenge cybersquatters using the dispute procedures with a good chance that they will prevail (see www.icann.org/udrp/proceedings-list-name.htm).
Indeed, many of the original reasons behind the decision to add .biz alongside the main .com domain are now no longer valid.
When domain names changed hands for huge sums, there was naturally a shortage of the preferred names. Now that some sanity has entered this area, and companies have realised that domain names do not have to be unique generic words or even particularly short, it is relatively easy to create new ones in the .com domain.
The best approach, therefore, seems to be to ignore .biz as much as possible, and get on with business as usual.