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Blockchain domains pose “significant risks” to internet, says ICANN

Kevin Murphy, May 10, 2022, Domain Tech

The internet could be fragmented and made less secure by the proliferation of blockchain-based naming systems, according to a recent position statement from ICANN’s chief technology officer.

The report, “Challenges with Alternative Name Systems” (pdf) worries aloud about systems such as Namecoin, Ethereum Naming Service, Unstoppable Domains, and Handshake.

It says: “the creation of new namespaces without any coordination (either among themselves nor with the DNS) will necessarily lead to name collisions, unexpected behaviors, and user frustration.”

“The end result might very well be completely separate ecosystems, one for each naming system, further fragmenting the Internet,” it concludes.

It’s a pretty brisk, high-level, 15-page summary of the various alt-root naming systems grouped around the “Web3” meme that have been gaining various levels of popularity over the last few years.

It doesn’t drill too far down into any of them and doesn’t really say much that we haven’t heard from ICANN before about blockchain naming, but it does broadly cover what’s out there, how these systems are used, and why they pose risks.

Opposition to alt-roots is an almost foundational principle of ICANN, documented in ICP-3, a 21-year-old document that dates from a time when alt-roots used standard DNS but with different root servers.

ICANN has in the last year pushed back against the newer blockchain-based alts, most prominently by delaying the sale of some gTLD contracts and forcing registry’s to renounce their ownership rights to gTLD strings.

One new addition to the debate that caught my eye was OCTO noting that a lack of coordination between the various alt-roots in operation today presents similar kinds of interoperability risks as does the lack of coordination between the alts and the authoritative root.

It notes that “at least four blockchain-based naming systems are competing today” and as a result “when developing an application, one must decide which blockchain-based naming system to use.”

“As there is no namespace coordination mechanism between those alternative naming systems, name collisions must be expected,” it says.

UPDATE: This story was updated at 2232 UTC to change the headline from “Blockchain poses ‘significant risks’ to internet, says ICANN” to “Blockchain domains pose ‘significant risks’ to internet, says ICANN”

My brain explodes trying to understand MMX’s new blockchain deal for .luxe

Kevin Murphy, August 3, 2018, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines has abandoned plans to launch .luxe as a gTLD for luxury goods and instead made a deal to sell it as an address for cryptocurrency wallets.
If you thought it was a silly move marketing .ws as meaning “web site” or .pw as “professional web”, you’re probably not going to like the backronym MMX has in mind for .luxe:
“Lets U Xchange Easily”.
Really.
Tenuous though that marketing angle may be, the concept behind the newly repurposed TLD is actually quite interesting and probably rises to the level of “innovation”.
MMX has inked a deal with Ethereum Name Service, an offshoot of Ethereum, an open-source blockchain project.
Ethereum is largely used as a cryptocurrency, like BitCoin, enabling people to transfer monetary value to each other using “wallet” applications, though it has other uses.
I’m just going to come right out and say it: I don’t understand how any of this blockchain stuff works.
I’ve just spent an hour on the phone with MMX CEO Toby Hall and I’m still not 100% clear how it integrates with domains and whether the .luxe value proposition is really, really cool or really, really stupid.
I’ll just tell you what I do understand.
Currently, when two Ethereum users want to transfer currency between each other, the sender needs to know the recipient’s wallet address. This is a 40-character nonsense hash that makes an IPv6 address look memorable.
It obviously would be a lot better if each user had a human-readable, memorable address, a bit like a domain name.
Ethereum developers thought so, so they created the Ethereum Name Service. ENS allowed people to use “.eth” domains, like john.eth, as a shorthand address for their wallets. I don’t know how it works, but I know .eth isn’t an official TLD in the authoritative root.
About 300,000 people acquired .eth domains via some kind of cryptographic auction process that I also don’t understand. Let’s just call it magic.
Under the deal with MMX, some 26 million Ethereum wallet owners will be able use .luxe domains, dumping their .eth names if they have them.
The names will be sold through registrars as usual, at a price Hall said will be a little bit more than .com.
Registrants will then be able to associate their domains with their 40-character wallet addresses, so they can say “Send $50 to john.luxe” and other crypto-nerds will instantly know what to do. Ethereum wallets will apparently support this at launch.
Registrars will need to do a bit of implementation work, however. Hall said there’ll be an API that allows them to associate their customers’ domains with their wallets, and to disassociate the two should the domain be transferred to somebody else.
This is not available yet, but it will be before general availability this November, he said.
What this API does is beyond my comprehension.
What I do understand is that at no point is DNS used. I thought perhaps the 40-char hash was being stored in the TXT field of a DNS record, but no, that’s not it. It’s being stored cryptographically in the blockchain. Or something. Let’s just say it’s magic, again.
The value of having a memorable address for a wallet is very clear to me, but what’s not at all clear to me is why, if DNS is not being queried at any part of the Ethereum transaction, this memorable address has to be a domain name.
You don’t need a domain name to find somebody on Twitter, or Instagram, or Grindr. You just need a user name. Why that model couldn’t apply here is beyond me.
Hall offered that people are familiar with domain names, adding that merchants could use the same .luxe domain for their web site as they use for their Ethereum wallets, which makes sense from a branding perspective.
The drawback, of course, is that you’d have to have your web site on a .luxe domain.
The launch plan for .luxe sees sunrise begin August 9, running for 60 days. Then there’ll be two weeks for .eth name holders to claim their matching .luxe names. Then an early access period. GA starts November 6.
While it should be obvious by now I don’t fully “get” what’s going on here, it strikes me as a hell of a lot more interesting way to use .luxe than its originally intended purpose as a venue for luxury goods and services.
Let’s face it, depending on pricing it would have turned out either as a haven for spammers, a barely-breaking-even also-ran, or a profitable business propped up by a couple thousand trademark owners paying five grand a year on unused defensive regs.