办事指南

Focus : Name games - A shortage of addresses is crippling the Internet. If a solution is not found soon, there could be chaos

点击量:   时间:2017-05-03 03:01:08

By Mark Ward ANYONE searching for evidence of sex in the Whitehouse need look no further than the Internet. Every day the Whitehouse Web site posts smutty pictures and links that would make even the most hardened politicians blush. The site in question is not www.whitehouse.gov, the home page of the US presidency, but that of a pornographic publishing outfit with the same name. Not surprisingly, the Washington DC White House is unhappy about sharing its address with pornographers, even if they are only virtual neighbours. Presidential counsel Charles Ruff wrote to the owners of the Web site asking them to change the name. But they replied that they owned the name and were within their rights, pointing out that the US government did not own trademarks for the words “white” and “house”. The row is just one example of a problem that no one can agree how to solve: there are simply not enough “domain” names—the strings of letters, words or numbers that identify Web pages—to satisfy everyone wishing to set up a site (see Forum, 28 February, p 49). Almost every domain name has a near-duplicate, and companies often try to design sites using their company names as domain names only to find that they are already taken. Because organisations are restricted in their use of a suffix—commercial outfits must use .com, for example, and nonprofit-making groups .org —they are forced to compromise by bastardising their original names. Some disputes over domain names result in legal action. In October last year, Prince plc, a small British company specialising in computer services, won the right to use the domain name www.prince.com after Prince Sports Group Inc dropped its legal challenge. The sports group had to make do with www.princetennis.com. There are over 100 000 uses of the word Prince registered as trademarks around the world—but only one www.prince.com. John Wood, an Internet consultant with Prince (the computing group), says the dilemma over domain names reflects the dramatic way the Internet has changed over the past few years. “We are at a watershed for the Internet,” he says. “From its roots as a research and technologists’ medium, it is growing into a fully fledged business and commercial medium.” Mike O’Dell, chief technology officer at the Internet service company Uunet, says that people are trying to use the domain name system in ways for which it was not designed, adding that “there are not enough nouns in the English language” to represent every host by a single name. Domain names make it easier to navigate the Web. When a browser looks for a page, it first consults a database that translates the domain name into numbers. The numbers act like an area code and enable the computer to locate the page. For example, while the domain name for New Scientist is www.newscientist.com, computers recognise it as 194.193.218.11. The server that holds this database, which mostly contains domain names ending in .com, .org, .edu and .net, is run by Network Solutions Inc. NSI was awarded a $4 million contract just over five years ago by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the arm of the US government that looked after the Internet at the time. Then, the Internet contained around 1.5 million domains. By January this year, it contained nearly 30 million. This growth has made NSI rich, as the company charges users who register sites on its server. Nearly 30 per cent of the people who have set up Web sites have opted for a domain name ending in .com and most of the others have chosen another name administered by NSI. Analysts estimate that NSI has made over $70 million in registration fees. In March, however, NSI’s contract is due to end, although the arrangement will probably be extended for another six months. The problem is what happens next. Everyone agrees that the system of allocating domain names must be transformed so that desirable addresses are not simply handed to the first company or institution that applies for them. But no one can agree how best to do this. Many groups do agree, however, that the solution proposed by the US government’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration in January is unworkable. The NTIA wants to turn NSI into a nonprofit-making corporation that would look after the root server and assign numbers to domain names. Private registrars would allocate domain names, with separate registrars controlling different suffixes such as .com or .org. These owners would compete for customers. In a rare example of solidarity, the Internet community has roundly condemned the American plan. David Maher, chairman of the Internet’s de facto Policy Oversight Committee, says: “It’s a terrible mistake and is entirely against the best interests of the Internet.” Maher points out that some suffixes—such as .com—have higher commercial value than others. In addition, companies that have Web addresses with which people are already familiar are unlikely to want to change them. Maher fears that registrars could hold companies to ransom by bumping up the annual fee for keeping popular domain names. Last year, an informal coalition of the technical groups and talking shops that oversee the Internet met to work out an alternative solution. The group proposed the creation of seven new domains— .firm, .shop, .web, .arts, .rec, .info and .nom—to increase the options for companies sharing a name. What an organisation did would determine which suffix it would use in its Web address. The Internet Council of Registrars (CORE), which grew out of the earlier ad hoc group, has already found 88 companies willing to offer registration services for this system. CORE will be ready to start operating by the end of March. If its plan is not adopted by the NTIA, the group may well go ahead with it anyway, resulting in a split that Maher says would cause chaos. Wood says part of the reason CORE is so critical of the US government’s proposal is that the organisation is desperate to have its own plan adopted. He believes CORE should be pleased that the NTIA is listening to its criticisms. Indeed, there are already alternatives to the NSI system. Every country has its own national identifier—such as .uk—and this is often administered by a nonprofit-making organisation. The group that runs the .uk name space, Nominet, has expanded it to include .co.uk, .police.uk and .nhs.uk after being asked to do so by British companies, police forces and hospitals respectively. This approach, suggest some experts, could help solve the domain name crisis. The use of national identifiers highlights one of the main criticisms of the American proposal: that by insisting that the companies responsible for registering addresses are US-based, it is trying to keep the US at the heart of the Internet. The European Commission in particular has condemned the plan for this reason and has requested meetings with the White House’s technology adviser, Ira Magaziner, to express its dissatisfaction. Magaziner has said that if enough people object to the NTIA plan, it will be ripped up and rewritten. If no alternative can be agreed on,