Saloon brawl over domain names does nothing to industry's image



David Bicknell

e-business

After more than a few years of organised chaos thinly disguised as an Internet talking-shop, we now have...



David Bicknell

e-business

After more than a few years of organised chaos thinly disguised as an Internet talking-shop, we now have a new series of top level Internet domain names to add to the existing .com, .net and .org. Among the new names are .biz, .coop, .aero, .info and .museum, each of them with its own registry to oversee usage of the names.

However, the names are unlikely to be in use until the second quarter of next year, because Icann - the California-based names and numbering body - still has to negotiate registry agreements, which then have to be approved by the board of directors.

Once these have been finalised, the Icann board will forward its recommendations to the US Department of Commerce for implementation. This process has taken nearly three years to conclude, which translates, in terms of the Internet, to about eight or nine.

What has been amazing about this whole process has been the sheer baseness of it. The domain name world, it seems, is populated with a whole series of companies and individuals whose sole purpose is to get rich quick. There are notable exceptions of course, but generally this whole domain name business has appeared to be a murky affair.

Add to this the businesses that are trying to protect their intellectual property rights and don't want to see their trademarks used without permission, and their rivals, the grass-roots Netizens who regard any defensive action related to a trademark as land grabbing, and you can see why it has been such a mess.

Actually, though, it is no great surprise. We are using a third-rate information service that crashes regularly, is slow to download, confusing, insecure, lacks privacy, is scarcely covered by legal certainty and is populated by a series of suppliers whose products get more and more unreliable.

The Internet revolution has often been characterised as a gold rush, with the more successful players being those who hand out the shovels. But when it comes to domain names, "gold rush" is too civilised a description. A saloon brawl, as depicted in the movies, by flying chairs and smashed bottles, is a more worthy scenario.

Lately, it has become fashionable for commentators and analysts to knock Amazon over its inability to become profitable. Actually, what could really hurt the company is a perception that Amazon is no better at customer service than every other duff dotcom when it comes to fulfilment. And it is already starting to happen. I have recently spoken to two individuals, who either received the wrong goods straight away, or waited a month for delivery, and then got the wrong goods.

One of these people is an unashamed Amazon evangelist. He has even met Amazon pioneer Jeff Bezos. Now though, he is beginning to view Amazon in a different light, and bad news travels fast. Amazon can keep on shrugging off the inevitable queries over profitability, but when it comes to fulfilment, it cannot be an also-ran.

Whatever is starting to go wrong needs sorting out now. In a couple of weeks, during the Christmas rush, a glitch could become a disaster. Then, Amazon might be wishing everyone would ask about its profitability again, and not about its inability to deliver.

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