New.net threatens to change Internet forever

But what of the beast ICANN?

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New.net has just opened a UK office, and in celebration offered a further 10 domain name extensions to its current 20. We popped along for a chat with the boys who ICANN have taken a disliking to and who Willie Black (head of Nominet in the UK) recently called nothing but script kiddies.

First of all, you need to know what New.net is and what it does. The company offers people the chance to register new domains with endings like .shop, .family, . mp3, .tech and so on and so forth. Amazing, you say, and ICANN has been arsing about for well over a year on new TLDs with still nothing yet.

Yes and no. The company does it but with a sleight of hand. The URL of www.pie.shop will in fact be www.pie.shop.new.net. This is the basis of every problem, debate and argument concerning New.net. In order for people to type in the shortened URL and get the site, New.net requires a modification to be made in how your browser searches for Web sites.

You can either connect to the Net through an ISP that has partnered with New.net or you can add New.net to your operating system's Web site search tool. When looking for a Web site, if the URL can't be found on the Internet's main DNS servers, the computer then asks New.net if it knows about it.

This is not only misleading to the average Joe but restrictive and threatens to destabilise the entire Internet, say New.net's critics. Twaddle, says New.net. And you know what, it's got a point.

The future of the Internet?
Put simply, New.net is selling itself as the future of the Internet. A future where the market controls the Internet's main product - domain names. Where competition and decision and capitalism decide the form of the Net in the future and not a bunch of old techies who appointed themselves to the leading role. [And while we're here, let the market sort out the domain dispute policies and Whois approach.]

And New.net couldn't have chosen a better time to have told people that. People are sick to death of ICANN's prevaricating when it comes to expanding the Internet. The organisation was originally set up to preside over the Internet's infrastructure but by growing more and more controlling as the Internet has taken off (and people have starting pulling it in twenty different directions), the secretive organisation has done itself a disservice.

The chief marketing officer for New.net Steve Chadima says much the same: "When it comes to [new] domain names - those are political and economic decisions. The consensus-building approach of ICANN is just not designed to process this." Hence the farcical situation with the new names. By choosing some and rejecting others, even if ICANN had been completely fair, it would still have infuriated huge numbers of people. "It's like a planned economy," says Chadima. "Restricted choices; protecting consumers from themselves."

And ICANN has relied so strongly on the destabilising-the-Net argument for why no one should do anything it doesn't like that people no longer believe it. We're no DNS experts sadly, but even the people that claim they are are completely divided on this instability issue - and usually on ideological rather than practical terms.

New.net rebuts any suggestion of causing instability. Not that this will come as much of a surprise to you. It sees itself as simply another DNS provider - why should every TLD be dealt with as a separate entity, run by a single company? (We'll ignore Verisign for the moment.)

What you must understand at this point is that we are talking to two marketing supremos. Despite their obvious knowledge and understanding of this part of the Internet, New.net is working a confidence trick.

It has to. It is only viable if everyone believes in it - and it knows that. It will tell ICANN what ICANN wants to hear, it will tell ISPs what they want to hear and it will tell reporters from The Register what we'd like to hear.

How on earth can New.net expect us to trust it as much specialist companies that have been in this game since the Net first kicked off? "We have teamed up with UltraDNS and when people hear that they usually go 'oh, okay'. UltraDNS is better in a way than Verisign because it uses up-to-date software and a better set of algorithms," Chadima claims.

And what of the practicality? How will you ensure that people can actually see New.net domains (the lynchpin of its entire strategy)? "There are currently 50 million people that can resolve New.net addresses and we hope to have 100 million by the end of this year," said the company's UK marketing director Andy Duff. Chadima adds: "We currently have five of the top seven ISPs in the US on board and three of the four domain dispute bodies."

Who are these two missing ISPs? Microsoft and AOL. Peculiarly, this simple fact is probably the clearest evidence that New.net is really onto something. But more than that, it may also be the very death of New.net. More of that in a follow-up article.

ICANN loves us - no, really

Steve Chadima is very keen to persuade us that a number of people on the ICANN Board - not the staff and not the boardsquatters - are behind them. He tells us of a hush-hush conversation he's had with one or two (can't tell us exactly who of course) who said they were behind him.

He submitted a paper and gave a speech at ICANN's recent meet in Stockholm. Vint Cerf thanked him for clearing matters up. But no response and no official words about New.net from the self-proclaimed Internet guardian.

Before we left, we asked Chadima whether he really thought ICANN was concerned about his company. "Yes, ICANN are taking us seriously." He meant it. And he was right to. ®

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