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Was this the first-ever .uk domain?

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2010, Domain Registries

Last night I attended a party, held by Nominet at the swanky Somerset House in London, celebrating 25 years of .uk.

During opening remarks, chief executive Lesley Cowley said that Nominet still hasn’t tracked down the first-ever registered .uk domain name. I reported on this for The Register a couple of weeks ago.

After doing a little digging, I think I may have a strong contender.

ucl.ac.uk

This is the domain for University College London. There are a few reasons to believe ucl.ac.uk could lay claim to be the “first” .uk domain.

It’s well known that the .uk namespace predates Nominet by over a decade. Before Nominet was formed, registrations were handled by a Naming Committee.

According to the Milton Mueller book “Ruling The Root“, and various other sources, the .uk top-level domain was originally delegated to UCL’s Andrew McDowell. This probably happened in 1984.

Digging through some old mailing list archives, I’ve found McDowell making references to running ucl.ac.uk and cambridge.ac.uk, albeit on a test basis, as early as June 1985.

The namedroppers mailing list back then was used by academics to test their newfangled domain name system, so it’s a good place to look for firsts. I’ve mentioned it before, in this blog’s inaugural post.

In one message sent to namedroppers on June 24, 1985, McDowell writes about running .uk, ucl.ac.uk and cambridge.ac.uk on his test-only name servers. The email was sent from a .arpa address.

On July 4, 1985, he sent his first email to the list from a ucl.ac.uk email address, which suggests that the domain was up and running at that time.

That’s 20 days before .uk was delegated, according to the official IANA record.

For this reason I think ucl.ac.uk may have a strong claim to be the first .uk domain.

However, it’s possible the reality may be rather less exciting (yes, even less exciting than something already not particularly exciting).

Anonymous Coward comments posted on The Register are perhaps not the most reliable source of information, but this guy seems to know what he’s talking about:

I believe .uk was the third top level domain to be established after .edu and .us. This predated dns and would have been in 1982 or 3.

.uk was run with a hosts.txt file and the first sub-domains being either ucl or mod.

dns came in in 85 or 86 and the first sub-domains in that were copied from the UK NRS from the X.25 world (ac.uk, co.uk and mod.uk) so there probably wasn’t a first dns sub-domain for uk.

This work was done by UCL CS and at least 2 people directly involved are still there.

If that is to be believed, it looks like there may have been a “first batch” of .uk names that were put into the DNS, rather than a single domain name.

However, given that UCL was managing the system at the time, I’d hazard a guess that ucl.ac.uk was probably the first to be used.

Vertical integration was not a slam dunk

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2010, Domain Registries

Two members of ICANN’s board voted against the decision to allow registrars and registries to own each other, according to a preliminary report from its November 5 meeting.

The decision was a surprise when it was announced last week, as it was diametrically opposed to the board’s previous stance essentially opposing vertical integration.

The new position, already incorporated in the Applicant Guidebook, allows registrars to apply to run new top-level domains, subject to a code of conduct.

From the board of directors’ meeting report:

Eleven Board members voted in favor of the Resolution. Two Board members were opposed to the Resolution. Two Board members did not participate in the discussion or the vote on the Resolution due to conflicts of interest. The Resolution carried.

I believe Bruce Tonkin was one of the people who recused themselves from the vote. I’m not certain who the other was.

We won’t discover who the dissenting opinions belonged to, or what they were, until the minutes are published, probably not long after the Cartagena meeting next month.

Is ICANN too scared of lawsuits?

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2010, Domain Registries

Arguments about the new top-level domain Applicant Guidebook kicked off with a jolt this week, when ICANN was accused of abdicating its responsibilities and being too risk-averse.

In what I think was the first case of a top ICANN staff member publicly discussing the AGB, senior veep Kurt Pritz fielded questions about “morality and public order objections” on a packed and occasionally passionate conference call (mp3).

On the call, Robin Gross of IPJustice accused ICANN’s of shirking its duties by proposing to “fob off” decisions on whether to reject controversial TLDs onto third-party experts.

She said:

I’m concerned that there’s a new policy goal – a new primary policy goal – which is the risk mitigation strategy for ICANN. I don’t remember us ever deciding that that was going to be a policy goal. But it seems that now what is in the best interest for the Internet is irrelevant. The policy goal that rules is what is in the best interest for ICANN the corporation

A cross-constituency working group (CWG) had said that controversial TLDs should be rejected only after a final nod from the ICANN board, rather than leaving the decision entirely in the hands of outside dispute resolution providers.

There was a concern that third parties would be less accountable than the ICANN board, and possibly more open to abuse or capture.

But ICANN rejected that recommendation, and others, on “risk mitigation” grounds. Explanatory notes accompanying the new AGB (pdf) say:

Independent dispute resolution is a cornerstone of the risk mitigation strategy. Without outside dispute resolution, ICANN would have to re-evaluate risks and program costs overall.

Almost a third of every new TLD application fee – $60,000 of every $185,000 – will go into a pool set aside for ICANN’s “risk costs”.

These costs were based on an estimate that there will be 500 applications, and that ICANN will need $30 million to cover risks.

These are often thought to be primarily risks relating to litigation.

There’s a fear, I suspect, that ICANN could become embroiled in more interminable .xxx-style disputes if it allows the board to make subjective calls on TLD applications, rather than hiring independent experts to make decisions based on uniform criteria.

On Monday’s conference call, Gross said that ICANN’s treatment of the CWG’s recommendations was a “really big shock”. She added:

clearly here this is just a fobbing off of that responsibility, trying to again avoid litigation, avoid responsibility rather than take responsibility and take accountability

But ICANN says that the risk mitigation strategy benefits TLD applicants by removing uncertainty from the program, as well making ICANN more credible.

Pritz said on the call:

the risk to the program is in creating a process or procedure that isn’t transparent and predictable for applicants. By what standard can a TLD be kicked out? It’s got to be: here’s the standards, here’s the decision maker and here’s the process.

When I talk about risk, it’s risk to this process.

If this process attracts a lot of litigation, and ICANN published the process and then did not follow it, or that the process wasn’t clear so that the applicant had no way of predicting what was going to happen to its application, the risk is then litigation would halt the process and undermine the ICANN model.

So it doesn’t really have anything to do with the people that are the directors or the people that are the staff; it has to do with the credibility of ICANN as a model for Internet governance.

In other words, if TLD applicants pay their fees and go into the process knowing what the rules are, and knowing that there’s little chance of being jerked around by the ICANN board, there’s less chance of the program as whole being disrupted by lawsuits.

Seems fair enough, no?

Happy 10th birthday new TLDs!

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2010, Domain Registries

With all the excitement about ICANN’s weekend publication of the new top-level domain Applicant Guidebook, it’s easy to forget that “new” TLDs have been around for a decade.

Tomorrow, November 16, is the 10th anniversary of the ICANN meeting at which the first wave of new gTLDs, seven in total, were approved.

The recording of the 2000 Marina Del Rey meeting may look a little odd to any relative newcomers to ICANN.

The open board meeting at which the successful new registries were selected took well over six hours, with the directors essentially making up their selection policies on the spot, in the spotlight.

It was a far cry from the public rubber-stamping exercises you’re more likely to witness nowadays.

Take this exchange from the November 2000 meeting, which seems particularly relevant in light of last week’s news about registry/registrar vertical integration.

About an hour into the meeting, chairman Esther Dyson tackled the VI idea head on, embracing it:

the notion of a registry with a single registrar might be offensive on its own, but in a competitive world I don’t see any problem with it and I certainly wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand

To which director Vint Cerf, Dyson’s eventual successor, responded, “not wishing to be combative”:

The choices that we make do set some precedents. One of the things I’m concerned about is the protection of users who register in these various top-level domains… If you have exactly one registrar per registry, the failure of either the registrar or the registry is a serious matter those who people who registered there. Having the ability to support multiple registrars, the demonstrated ability to support multiple registrars, gives some protection for those who are registering in that domain.

Odd to think that this ad-hoc decision took ten years to reverse.

It was a rather tense event.

The audience, packed with TLD applicants, had already pitched their bids earlier in the week, but during the board meeting itself they were obliged to remain silent, unable to even correct or clarify the misapprehensions of the directors and staff.

As a rookie reporter in the audience, the big news for me that day was the competition between the three registries that had applied to run “.web” as a generic TLD.

Afilias and NeuStar both had bids in, but they were competing with Image Online Design, a company that had been running .web in an alternate root for a number of years.

Cerf looked like he was going to back the IOD bid for a while, due to his “sympathy for pioneers”, but other board members were not as enthusiastic.

I was sitting immediately behind company CEO Christopher Ambler at the time, and the tension was palpable. It got more tense when the discussion turned to whether to grant .web to Afilias instead.

Afilias was ultimately granted .info, largely due to IOD’s existing claim on .web. NeuStar’s application was not approved, but its joint-venture bid for .biz was of course successful.

This was the meat of the resolution:

RESOLVED [00.89], the Board selects the following proposals for negotiations toward appropriate agreements between ICANN and the registry operator or sponsoring organization, or both: JVTeam (.biz), Afilias (.info), Global Name Registry (.name), RegistryPro (.pro), Museum Domain Management Association (.museum), Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (.aero), Cooperative League of the USA dba National Cooperative Business Association (.coop);

If any of this nostalgia sounds interesting, and you want to watch seven hours of heavily pixelated wonks talking about “putting TLDs into nested baskets”, you can find the video (.rm format, that’s how old it is) of the MDR board meeting buried in an open directory here.

New TLD guidebook bans domain front-running

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s newly published Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domain operators contains a draft Code of Conduct for registries that, among other things, bans “front-running”.

The code, which I think is probably going to be one of the most talked-about parts of the AGB in the run-up to ICANN’s Cartagena meeting next month, is designed to address problems that could arise when registrars are allowed to run registries and vice versa.

Front-running is the name given to a scenario in which registrars use insider information – their customers’ domain availability lookups – to determine which high-value domains to register to themselves.

While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that such practices have occurred in the past, a study carried out last year by researcher Ben Edelman found no evidence that it still goes on.

Front-running was however held up as one reason why registrars and registries should not be allowed to vertically integrate, so the AGB’s code of conduct explicitly bans it.

It also bans registries accessing data generated by affiliated registrars, or from buying any domains for its own use, unless they’re needed for the management of the TLD.

Integrated registries will have to keep separate accounts for their registrar arms, and there will have to be a technological Chinese wall stopping registry and registrar data from cross-pollinating.

Registries will also have to submit a self-audit to ICANN, certifying their compliance with the code of conduct, before January 20 every year.

The code is currently a six-point plan, which, given the past “ingenuity” of domain name companies, may prove a little on the light side.

There’s lots more discussion to be had on this count, no doubt.