There was an interesting choice made many years ago when the Internet was given domain names.
Yeah, it made sense at the time, but the White House’s new push to reclassify broadband access providers as “common carriers” gives me hope that some things can be fixed. And maybe the domain name was one of those miscalculations that we can look at differently now.
Before we had domain names we had numbers and dots. How could any normal person be expected to remember an address made of numbers and dots? The answer is obviously to use words instead.
Branding the way addressability was handled on the network would surely make it easier for nontechnical people to find stuff, right?
The free web servers and web browsers and the open industry standards they embraced created an information explosion, with clearly defined addresses that organizations learned how to promote in a big way.
Yes, it worked! Everyone embraced the Internet very quickly as a result.
But there were repercussions.
This combination of forces signalled to every commercial entity in the world that it had to own the nodes on the network. And thus began cyberspace’s great property landgrab.
When domain names were established as the prize ecosystems thriving on their existence formed to enshrine them. Business models were defined by how well they could draw audiences to a domain and control people’s time when they ‘arrived’ there.
The ability to publish what you want on your own server and making it freely accessible globally is a critical principle in the network’s design, but the attachment of that server to a branded address sends a heavily weighted signal about the importance of the server as opposed to the published material or the creator of it.
Without a domain name we would’ve had to work out means for distributing material with authorship attached to it as it went across the network.
That concept was already cooked into the hardware and software standards, but it wasn’t yet enshrined in the media production process when the domain + web server + web browser combo permeated every aspect of the Internet.
And now that model is in question, perhaps even outdated already. Mobile internet traffic growth, for example, has nothing to do with domain names. It doesn’t need them.
Why are organizations struggling to identify mobile-native business models? Because so many of them have invested 15 to 20 years in driving people to spend time on their domains instead of developing their roles via the wider network.
The moment to redefine how syndication works across the network might be right now – while the transition to mobile is still fresh, as new legal definitions of ISPs take shape, as increased awareness of the threats imposed by centralized platforms shake people’s trust in domains, etc.
It’s clearly an exaggeration to blame DNS for the closed Internet trend, but it’s equally naive to think that we can secure the future of free speech by entrusting the way we access it to a handful of people at ICANN.
Could this moment right now be the much-needed window of opportunity needed for reshaping what digital media means on the network?