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New TLD Public Comments: Jumping-to-Conclusions?

Christopher Ambler

Having been involved in the whole TLD issue since its inception, back in the ancient history of the mid-1990's, one would think that nothing would surprise me anymore. As it turns out, however, watching the comments on ICANN's public comment list with respect to the new sTLD proposals, I find that I'm taken-back by some of the kinds of comments I'm seeing.

I helped eNom create the sTLD application for .Mail. It's a bold proposal with an excellent prospect for creating a framework with which spam can be fought by validating responsible mail senders. When the proposal was being drafted, consideration was given to a number of potential objections, and it was a constant goal to ensure that the application was as clear as possible. Yet, as it turns out, the vast majority of posts on ICANN's public comment forum seem to zero in on aspects of the proposal that just aren't there. Many of the posts seem to be made after the poster has read a story in the press (which is, at best, little more than a summary of the main points). To say that there is jumping-to-conclusions going on would be a gross understatement.

Frankly, it's bewildering.

The first classification of poster seems to have read a story in the press and created, in his own mind, an idea of how the domain would work. He then decides that this is a terrible idea, and comments appropriately.

Take, for example, the commenter who says that he doesn't want to have to buy a .Mail domain in order to get his mail. Does he actually believe that the proposal is to create a domain that one must buy to get one's mail? Can you imagine? What a racket! Or the commenter who thinks that he has to buy a .Mail for each and every domain he owns, when it's clear from the proposal that you only need a single .Mail for your entire server farm. Or the commenter who thinks he has to buy up all .Mail domains for all of his domains before someone else does and starts sending mail as him. He apparently didn't read the part where it's explained that only the owner of a domain can buy the corresponding .Mail domain, and if they don't, nobody else can. And even if someone managed to get in an application for your domain, they would clearly fail the validation process.

The flip-side of this assumption is demonstrated by the commenter who reads an example in the press of how the owner of example.com is the only one who can purchase example.com.mail, and says that he's upset that he can't get a .Mail because his domain ends in .biz.

Most noticeable, there are the vast majority of posts who decry the proposed $2000 fee to register a .Mail domain. Never mind that the proposal clearly states that this is a starting number, most likely will go down (because ICANN allows a registry to lower prices, but not raise them), and is intended for the rollout and build out phase where the early adopters are large corporation which will require significantly more monitoring and validation.

The application is quite clear that this is not for individuals at the onset, that users bear no cost, that the structure is a non-profit, and that does not interfere with normal mail delivery in any way. It has been made plain that lower-cost .Mail service for small business and individuals is the plan, once the system is up and running and has gathered support.

But everyone just sees the dollar sign, makes an assumption, and goes ballistic. It's even more interesting to note that while most commenters were against having to pay $2000 (which, I must reiterate, is not the case), some actually said that it was not enough! Some commenters said that any proposal that didn't charge a much higher fee would just encourage spammers to spend the $2000, and, as such, the proposal fails. This is wrong on two fronts, of course. First, the cost is irrespective of whether or not the technology works. It either works or it doesn't. Second, even if a spammer decides to register 100 .Mail domains, at a cost of $200,000, they would find them useless. Either the spammer would fail their validation because they want to remain anonymous, or they would find their .Mail domains shut down just as soon as they started spamming. Either way, the price has no bearing on whether or not the technology works.

The .Mail proposal is not intended to offer each and every business a domain for responsible mail use at the onset. To do so, with the amount of validation and build-out required would be very difficult, even at $2000 each. But to the larger corporations that can drive adoption, the cost to them is already above the proposed $2000 fee in terms of legitimate non-spam mail that is being drowned by spam. And if you consider the cost that an eBay or Paypal bears to deal with phishing attacks (in terms of their customer service department alone), .Mail could actually reduce their costs. Those who claim that any solution that does not both increase the costs to spammers while decreasing them for the end-user are conveniently ignoring this fact. And, as has been pointed out, once this adoption and build-out is complete, lower costs to smaller businesses will be the order of the day, all the way down to very low-cost individual use. Apparently, some commenters can't see past their initial, erroneous objections.

Then there are those who focus on the support issue, crying about how it'll require massive, coordinated efforts to retool everything, yet they fail to note that the inventor of the most prolific MTA on the Internet has stated, in public, that he supports the proposal. A single change to that MTA, in the defaults, takes care of the majority of the Internet in one fell swoop, with no work required by users, ISPs, or anyone else. Regardless, the market will determine changes to other MTAs and clients, as giving them a method to know that certain mail is held to a higher standard is very useful, especially if it does not interfere with other mail and anti-spam measures. Claims that .Mail is an "everyone must have it for it to work" system are misguided, at best.

So it makes me wonder: what ever happened to reading a proposal, carefully considering the whole picture, and then making a reasoned response? What ever happened to understanding a thing before you speak on a thing? There have been a number of reasoned responses (and many of them are correctly critical). But the majority are just objections based on presumptions.

Of course, I'm leaving out comments by individuals who are known speculators and spammers, companies that make anti-spam software who feel threatened by the potential success of the .Mail proposal (but are really not threatened since .Mail does not preclude any other anti-spam technology; indeed it helps support most anti-spam technology) and those direct marketers who incorrectly believe that this will infringe on their freedom to send you email advertisements at their own pace and whim. I leave these out because those might be ad-hominem attacks, and of course I'd never want to do that.

By Christopher Ambler, Chief Software Strategist
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Re: New TLD Public Comments: Jumping-to-Conclusions? Jeff  –  Apr 16, 2004 8:08 AM PDT

"didn't read the part where it's explained that only the owner of a domain can buy the corresponding .Mail domain, and if they don't, nobody else can"

Only one small comment, or rather question, not having the time to wade through an entire proposal that is likely to take thorough reading-

What happens when a domain lapses? Or is sold?

I trust that there is some mechanism for requiring the original owner to pass along the .Mail domain as well?

Re: New TLD Public Comments: Jumping-to-Conclusions? Christopher Ambler  –  Apr 16, 2004 9:22 AM PDT

Within the framework of understanding that the new owner will need to be validated, yes. Absolutely.

Re: New TLD Public Comments: Jumping-to-Conclusions? Bobert  –  Apr 16, 2004 2:17 PM PDT

Christopher,
You are right on with the article. The prevelence of the validation process has hurt it's contact rate. As more people come dependent on it, the weaker it gets.

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