ICANN created a history project documenting its formation nineteen years ago. I’m captivated by the interviews: corralling support and preventing disputes between so many interests seems like an impossible task. I couldn’t imagine the current political climate would come close to breaking something away from the US government with such bipartisan support. Their policies are downright ridiculous at times, but their history is certainly rich.

Is using a generic top-level domain a good idea?

I’ve been thinking about switching over my website and email to one of the new top-level domains. This has lead me to investigating what the switch would feel like, and how stable the move would be.

Will it survive?

I am looking at the .engineer gTLD now owned by Donuts. At the time of writing this, there are a total of 2706 registered domains since late 2014. That’s nothing.

That got me thinking: what exactly happens when a gTLD fails?

The answers aren’t clear. When applying, ICANN requires registrars put up cash in the form of a bond to cover operational costs for 3 years. If a registrar were to fail, another can propose to take over. Their database is stored off-site, and data can be migrated.

But what if nobody does? What happens to a gTLD if there’s not enough domains to stay in business? The answer, it seems, is that the domain ends. There’s no provisions at ICANN to maintain domains beyond the transfer procedure.

Donuts, for what it’s worth, has stated they would not shut any down:

We think of all the TLDs as one big registry. It[‘]s profitable, so all our TLDs are profitable, but that is beside the point. We’d no more shut down one of our TLDs than you would shut down 100 “unprofitable” second-level names in .link.

There’s definitely risk, and that’s not what the internet needs. It should be that, regardless of the fate of any registrar, a domain you purchase today will be valid as long as you renew it.

As an email

Generic top-level domains have been available for registration since 2013, but there’s a number of services that can’t handle them. I’m surprised how many times I enter one into an email field and see “invalid address” as the result.

The responses I’ve received are generally the “doing it wrong” variety and not the “I’ve filed an issue and we’ll look into it.” I’m not sure what I expected to be honest; I hoped that it would be passed up the food chain, but it always dies in the first round of support.

This means, to use a gTLD, I need to keep a backup domain for services like AT&T, CBS, Virgin Airlines, and Crunchyroll. I expected that in 2017 it wouldn’t be a problem, and for the most part it isn’t an issue. It’s frustrating though.

Premium domains

New.net tried replacing ICANN’s authority in the past, long before gTLDs existed. They offered some snazzy options, and I grabbed zac.tech to play around. It didn’t work on most ISPs, but it did work on mine.

That’s a valid gTLD now! I could register it again! For the low, low cost of $2800. Per year.

This notion of a premium domain name is a money-grab by registrars. What constitutes a “premium” domain is arbitrary: length, dictionary words, prettiness, etc. If you try to register one of these domains at NearlyFreeSpeech you get a perfectly correct error:

This means the registry of this gTLD plans to extort extra money from anyone who wants this domain.

It is, and they do. These premium prices may come down. Perhaps they’ll stop charging extra to renew them entirely. But when your registry has a few thousand total domains are premium bottlenecks the right way to go about this?

The future?

I’m worried that entire namespaces are being taken by companies for their internal use, like Google seems to be doing with .dev. If you’ve got the cash, you can take complete, even dictatorial, ownership. That’s not how existing domains worked, but it’s the rules we’re living under with ICANN’s leadership.

But we can’t continue to have one namespace. We’ve been in a world where everything but .com was wrong, and Verisign’s control over it has been harsh. These new top-level domains are nicer looking and there’s significantly more availability.

So I’m thinking about switching. There’s a lot to choose from, and more opening up every day. I’m on a ccTLD right now, and there’s a real risk that it could go away at any time through local laws or disputes. Remember when every startup was using Libya’s .ly domain?

Generic top-level domains feel like an improvement for the internet as a whole. The cruft at the end doesn’t have to be cruft; it can be descriptive, it can be helpful, and above all it can be nice.

Age of Swords comes out next week, but that didn’t stop this Barnes & Noble from putting it out early. If I were willing to go non-digital I’d be reading it right now.

Jeff Rosenstock’s WORRY. came out last October. Since then, I’ve listened to it dozens of times. I can’t think of an artist that I’ve listened to more over the years. His writing and music style just blows me away.

I’m looking forward to Iron Gold. It’s the fourth book of the Red Rising series which explores distant future humans splintered into sub-groups with one dominant over the solar system.