I had the pleasure of eating breakfast with Vint Cerf, chairman of ICANN's board and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, prior to his keynote address this morning. It was great to discuss some of the issues domainers are facing with regards to registrar practices, expiring domains, etc. directly with Cerf.
Cerf's keynote kept the crowd engaged. I've summarized the topics he covered:
New TLDs - Some people have misunderstood Cerf's position with regards to adding new domains. He said he is not opposed to adding new TLDs. What he advocates, however, is having a solid rationale for adding new TLDs. Cerf believes the processes and outcomes of the first two rounds of TLD adds were not satisfactory. He hopes for the process to be revised by the end of the year.
International Domain Names – First, Cerf noted that IDNs are important for the large portion of the world that doesn't use roman characters. But he noted that there are some technical and security challenges to overcome. IDNs present an opportunity for phishing attacks that lead unsuspecting users to a domain name that appears to be a reputable company's site, but the domain name actually includes characters improperly displayed by the user's browser. Cerf discussed problems with browser plug-ins that enable IDNs. These can give the impression of TLDs that don't exist, creating confusion. He also pointed out that browsing the web isn't the only thing to consider when planning for IDNs. Software applications and e-mail systems need to be compatible.
Registrar Compliance – Cerf admitted that ICANN hasn't been able to monitor compliance of registrar activities effectively. ICANN is trying to hire more people to monitor compliance. But Cerf said the other key issue is that ICANN needs more tools to enforce the policies. Right now it has one option for disciplining registrars — to disaccredit them. He would like more options, such as fines or steps of discipline. There's an impediment to implementing such a structure – the very group that would give ICANN more disciplinary power consists of people that might be disciplined by the rules. This means we are unlikely to see changes soon.
At breakfast I mentioned GoDaddy's practice of preventing transfers of domains for 60 days when you change anything about the registrant's information in Whois. Cerf was appalled at the practice.
Public Policy – referring to a push by countries to stake a bigger role in managing the internet, Cerf pointed out that ICANN is not in charge of the internet. It's only an oversight group for certain functions. He does not believe the role of ICANN should be transferred to ITU.
Domainers – Referring to those in the crowd that invest in domain names, Cerf discussed how current domain policy is geared toward the naive public, not active domainers. The policies are developed to protect the average Joe that registers a domain. Cerf suggested that perhaps domainers should get involved in the policy making process.
He wants to see more education about the lifecycle of domain names. The average Joe should understand that domain names don't expire and simply go to a "domain name heaven". There are consequences to letting a domain go even if you aren't using it anymore. The average Joe needs to understand this.
Direct Navigation – he saved an issue near and dear to the audiences' hearts for the end. He discussed the notion of direct navigation (people typing in domains) as opposed to using search engines to find what they want on the web. As search continues to improve, Cerf said he suspects the percentage of web traffic that comes from direct navigation will fall. However, he said that the overall level of direct navigation might increase as the number of internet users increases.
Q&A – Cerf saved time at the end of his speech to answer a few questions from the audience. Cerf is hearing impaired, so he walked into the audience to answer questions (so he could read the questioner's lips).
In response to a question about the .com contract with Verisign, Cerf reminded the audience that the decision about the contract was made in the context of litigation between Verisign and ICANN. Cerf believes that taking the issue further in litigation would not have led to a better contract than what was approved.
After Q&A, Name Intelligence VP Jothan Frakes made a joke about Al Gore "inventing the internet". Cerf grabbed the mic and jokingly said "everywhere I go there is some asshole" who makes fun of Gore's statement. Cerf then gave praise to Gore's efforts to create the commercial web and explained that Gore never made the statement that he "invented the internet".
Later, Frakes stood at the podium and said, "I'm still so honored to have been called an asshole by Vint Cerf."
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