Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Friday, November 14, 2008

Extending the domain name system

I’ve just come back from a meeting of ICANN, the body that runs the core of the international domain name system. That meeting, which was held in Cairo last week, was dominated by discussions about extending the domain name system so that people would be able to apply for their own top levels, such as (say) .aotearoa or .tyrell-corporation.

ICANN holds meetings like this three times a year. They are big affairs with lots going on, and often in some exotic location. Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked a bit about what it is like to attend one, and about the domain name system expansion. Read on for my speaking notes or download the audio as ogg or mp3. (more…)

posted by colin at 12:14 am  

Monday, August 4, 2008

More about ACTA

Computerworld is carrying an article about Mark Harris’s attempt to get more information about ACTA – a secret treaty that the New Zealand government has just finished calling for submissions on. The Government gave him 13 of the 91 documents he asked for, and crossed out material in most of those 13, as well. Mark has a lot more information on his site.

I talked about this on the radio a few weeks ago. And here’s my submission to the Government – which still hasn’t even been so much as acknowledged, over three weeks after I sent it.

Frankly, the potentialities here are scary – ACTA could do everything from killing off free software to stopping innovation on the Internet, but virtually all the information we have about it comes from leaked documents. Our government is negotiating in secret, and will probably end up giving away more of our rights like it did during the last Copyright Amendment Act.

This really is not good enough. Our government should have nothing to do with this, and we should all be telling them that. Now.

posted by colin at 11:47 am  

Monday, May 19, 2008

What’s in a name?

…asks Juliet, when she considers that the boy she loves is from the family of her father’s mortal enemy. But names are important. Just look at all the fuss over domain names which I’ve written about many times before.

The importance of names is far wider than that. Look at our personal names. People’s names work differently according to culture – but there is no human culture in which people do not have personal names. The requirement for personal names seems to be built in to us. Now, Richard Westlake has done some research to show that our names are more than just sounds. He has shown that someone whose name is in the first half of the alphabet is twice as likely to be elected to high office than someone whose name is in the second half.

posted by colin at 6:53 pm  

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

There’s No Accounting for taste

…or de gustibus non est disputandum as the Latin tag has it. But tasting has been a problem on the Internet for some time now.

Domain name tasting is the practice of buying a domain name, putting up a web site with advertising on it, and not paying for the name when the bill comes in a week later if the advertising doesn’t show a profit.

It works likes this: You think up a name that people might type – it might be close to the name of a popular site – let’s say it’s – then you point it at a website full of ads. You get paid when people click on the ads on the site. Under the rules for domain name purchase there is a so-called “grace period” during which you can cancel your registration for a full refund. So, at the end of the grace period you figure out whether the costs of holding the domain outweigh the ad revenue.

Some registrars in the US are doing something like a million names at a time and canceling 99% or more at the end of the grace period. They can automate the whole thing so it’s pretty much untouched by human hand. Then they just wait for the money to roll in. And it’s a really bad practice because it takes the opportunity of names away form people who might have a valid use for them – John Goggle, for instance – and it places huge loads on the registration systems which pushes up everyone’s costs.

One way to kill this off would be to get rid of the grace period on domain name registration, so all registrations would be immediate and final and paid in full. But the grace period is kind of useful to ordinary users and it’s a shame to see it so abused.

Instead, ICANN looks likely to limit tightly the size of a refund that a registrar can claim in a month, which is quite clever, because this is a game of large numbers and this should stop it. It should also stop the practice of ‘front-running’, where you ask about a particular domain name – only to discover that the registrar you have just asked has automatically registered it on your behalf as soon as you asked, and you can’t register the name using a competing registrar until after the grace period.

None of this has been a major problem for dot nz names, possibly because we have a smaller market than dot com, but mainly I think because we have a strong regulator.

posted by colin at 7:18 am  

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Domain name tasting

No, not a way to make people use tasteful names on the Net, but the practice of registering names to see if you can make money off them and cancelling them inside the free “grace period” if you can’t.

There are people out there registering 100,000 names a day and cancelling 99% of the names before they have to pay. Typically these people put a webpage full of advertising on the name as they register it, and they only keep it if people click on the adverts.

This is a bad practice because it prevents people from getting access to names because some taster has grabbed them. It also stresses the registration systems. And its very much against the spirit of the system.

There’s a lot of discussion going on at ICANN on how to shut down the tasters. Perhaps the free grace period will be removed, or perhaps people will only be allowed to cancel a small proportion of the names they register.

It’s interesting to watch the people who care about this practice coming up with a solution to the problem.

posted by colin at 12:06 am  

Friday, September 21, 2007

She has a name

Qian Xun Xue has had her mother murdered and been abandoned by her father in a foreign country. My heart goes out to her, and to her grandparents as they arrange to come here from China to take her home. Why do I think that? Because she’s a human being who doesn’t deserve the terrible way she’s been treated.

That’s right. She’s a person – and people have names. That’s how we know each other. Hers is Qian Xun Xue. If you can’t manage that, saying Chee-ahn is pretty close. Recognisable, at least, and it shows you think she’s a person with a name. Not a vegetable, as many of our media have been calling her ever since her plight hit the headlines.

I’ve heard TV1 and TV3 (which is still doing it tonight) call her “Pumpkin”. The Dominion Post called her that in screaming headlines today. The Press was doing so as well. Not only is this not OK, it’s insulting and casts her as, at best, some kind of doll, a prop for a news story. She’s not a toy – Qian is a person like you and me and just as deserving of a name.

I know when she first was reported as abandoned to the Australian Police they didn’t know her name. If they needed to give her a name, why couldn’t they have given a human one like Jane Doe as the Americans do for unidentified girls and women? Is it somehow OK to call her a vegetable because (let’s whisper it) she’s Chinese?

posted by colin at 6:44 pm  

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bubble popped!

And Telecom’s new service branded jointly with Yahoo certainly seems to have. Telecom has got right up people’s noses with its implementation of Bubble. There’s at least three different problems going on here. (more…)

posted by colin at 5:04 pm  

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A rose by any other name – how domain names work

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about domain names on the Internet, where they came from, what they are, how you can get one and what you should pay for one. My notes are below the split, and as usual, there are some links at the end.


posted by colin at 1:51 pm  

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