MICHAEL CASTELLO, a very well-known name in the domain and web development industries, sent a letter to Rick Schwartz and myself, which is a Call to Action for Freedom on the Internet. I call on all bloggers to copy this letter and publish, as it is that important for all to see.
If you agree with the general tone of this letter, I invite you to sign it with us. If you are reading this on Facebook, I invite you to LIKE it and Comment if possible. I also invite dissenting comments and, if you believe that it can be better stated, please do so.
Castello Cities Internet Network, Inc.
Forgive me if I am long-winded here. I have some ideas that I want to share with you. Rick, Howard and I think alike and agree in how we see the Internet and domain names.
I’ve been involved with the ICANN Business Constituency for many years and, like you, was against the new gTLDs when first proposed. I could go on with reasons why I felt they were not needed and how ICANN has proceeded in approving them, but we now need to take a fresh look for our industry at large.
The new gTLDs are here, and I have resigned myself to them while seeing a silver-lining, which I believe is going to be very helpful to our industry.
In my opinion, domain names are the key to individual freedom and survival for the future Internet. For a small entry fee, domain name ownership gives an individual the ability to own his or her place in the virtual world.
When I was a recording artist, the one thing that would make or break my musical success was distribution. The ability to move music to the consumer was controlled by just a few companies. The Internet is likewise a global distribution network that everyone now has access to. Anyone can move an idea or product to any and all parts of the world. It is incredibly powerful and it allows single individuals to compete on a grand scale previously dominated by large telcos and corporations. It is my opinion that powerful Internet companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and other “umbrella” corporations, have slowly shifted the perceptions of regular Internet users in regards to direct navigation in order to make domain names less crucial.
The URL(Address Bar) is something we all own but is also held captive by those that produce browsers. In 1994, the natural impulse for me was to use the Address Bar to navigate wherever I wanted to. I found colleges were online, and I could simply type Columbia.edu in the Address Bar and their website would pop up in front of me. What power, what freedom, to steer my magic carpet ride wherever I wanted. It was still barren land and it needed individuals with a vision to help build it.
Knowing that replicating the real word into the virtual world would take time, I saw the impatience of the public and businesses which resulted in the Dot Com Bubble. Since then, search engines have become very powerful because a user could always find a web page result while a web address did not always resolve to a working website.
After twenty years, almost every brand or keyword now has a viable, trusted website. The problem is that Google and Facebook have become the main way people navigate to these brands. The people of the virtual world bought into services provided by these walled gardens, giving Google, Facebook, and now the U.S. government, much more control of our navigation and information. I see a monopoly that in the past would have been regulated or broken up. I see what appears to be an alliance between the government and these companies that is benefiting them and in turn, controlling the web community. I believe this upends the scales of democracy.
What I’ve noticed:
For many years, Apple’s Safari browser directly defaulted to the dot com when someone typed a keyword into its address bar. Now, after Steve Jobs has passed on, Apple no longer directs keywords to dot com, and those same keywords redirect to search results and advertisers. Steve Jobs understood the opportunity that domain names offered everyone. At one point in the past few years, Google nearly removed the address bar entirely in their Chrome browser in favor of their search bar. They even asked ICANN to consider resolving DNS to just “keywords” (which would have rendered gTLDs unnecessary!). Thankfully, ICANN turned them down, saying it would break the DNS(Domain Name System). Instead, Google moved its search bar right next to the address bar, and ultimately took control of the Address Bar. Google was changing the way people used the Internet. Much like CompuServe and Prodigy in the 80s, the Internet is reverting to a series of “intranets” that are owned by large corporations. Individual freedoms and inherent rights are being trampled on. Where are the leaders “for the people” in the virtual world to bring balance? What now are WE to do?
Domain names empower people. We could say domain names ARE people; they are that important. Everyone should have the opportunity to own a domain name and be unfettered in how they use it. Peer-to-peer (P2P) is liberty, but domain names now need protection from those entities which are diminishing their influence. The domain industry and the ICA(Internet Commerce Association) have a unique opportunity to take this plight and forge a positive result.
Along with all of the ccTLDs, the new gTLDs make the domain name pyramid much bigger, which gives the domain industry a greater virtual signature. Everyone who promotes the domain industry is an “asset. The new gTLD registries will likely spend millions of dollars to make the public aware of the importance of domain names. They will be doing the heavy lifting, and the more the public talks about domain names, the better the balance between individual users and powerful corporations. We can coalesce to work together.
I’ve suggested to the board of ICA an agreement to the “Understanding of Personal Empowerment” that I believe companies like Apple, Google and Facebook could agree with. It is in their best interests to show that they are helping domain names (i.e. individuals) and not trying to reduce their influence. Power from domain names IS power to the people. The timing is right for the domain industry and the ICA to work together to preserve direct navigation.
If we can’t agree on this protection, then I believe ICA should lobby Congress to put in place regulations that will protect domain name owners. We need numbers; those numbers are also voters. In the future, everyone will need a domain name or virtual place of residence. What we do now will help the future users of the Internet find greater mobility and advancement.
Danny, thanks for your continued support. You have always been a visual brand in our industry and represent us well.
I have likewise spoken to ICA about the issues you bring up. Truth is, ICA’s work helps all domain name owners and there are only a few that support their bottom line with real funds. It takes time and money to move certain institutions and ICA has been skillfully successful with the limited funds it has. Our grass roots endeavor can move those in power but it must continue to grow and show support and momentum.
ICA is trying to move forward it what our industry is asking. That says a lot for them. They are going to upgrade their website and I suggested a Domainer Sponsorship for $10 a month or $100 a year. If enough sign up at that level, I believe the Domainer contingency will have a greater voice in ICA policy. Currently Phil Corwin does an amazing job representing ICA on the Business Constituency at ICANN. He is our legislative champion and works for all of our best interests. If ICA gets more support and funding, I believe they would also appropriate assets to support our Call to Action and Declaration. They have leverage and can be a strong pillar for our future foundation.
I am hopeful in seeing what our industry can do when we can come together to work for a greater cause. See you at TRAFFIC.
I posted this comment on Rick’s Blog. Since Michael’s letter is share here, as well, I think it’s important to have this comment as well.
I agree there must be a discussion about these new tech czars. However, smaller domain investors must be represented as much the larger ones. It has been suggested in the past that small investors should not have an equal footing in certain organizations because their smaller investments represent a lesser interest in the industry, at large. This is not true. At least not for me.
Not all of the smaller domain investors are so situated because they’re fly-by-nighters or because they’re hobby players. Many, like myself, start small because of a lack of resources to jump in big. That doesn’t mean our interests should be overshadowed by other players or that we should be told we can support organizations, but not actually join them, like the ICA. That is part of what I have found so offensive about the ICA’s membership thresholds. I have tried to address the issue with other domain investors, particularly Nat Cohen. For whatever reason, my argument just was not being understood. To his credit, Nat asked me to articulate my concerns in written form, but after a couple of lengthy discussions, in person and on the phone, I just felt exhausted with repeating myself in print. I suppose I have just done that, though. Perhaps should share this link with him, then?
I have grown slowly, but I have grown, and my interests in domain investment are just as valid, whether I hand-register a domain for $10 or buy one on the aftermarket for $13,000, which I did recently. Thank goodness Michael speaks to that issue, himself, when he mentions a domain owner who may have one or 1,000 names. I have a few hundred, and I’ve been careful to not tread on trademarks. When I do, either by not thinking clearly in my exuberance or when I see things from newer or refreshed perspectives, I let the names drop. But I also know that capitalism works best when there is an open race to be first with an idea, then to make that idea materialize as a useful commodity, utility or plaything.
That being said, I know – we were told by Congressman Cliff Stearns at the 2010 South Beach T.R.A.F.F.I.C. – there must be a lobbying effort of some kind that represents domain investors’ interests on Capitol Hill, and that of domain developers, too. I am both an investor and an end user. There are many in the domain space that fit that description, I’m sure. I think Rick is right, that we need to set aside whatever enmity or misgivings we have had or presently have. A dialogue must be started, and a consensus on a course of action must be achieved.
I am looking forward to the Las Vegas show, even more so, for this reason. Hopefully, we will find ourselves engaged in sound debate, arriving at cogent solutions. At the very least, I hope we find agreement on an incipient measure or set of measures we can take to prevent would-be technical oligarchs from crushing our dreams and obliterating years – in some cases it is decades – of hard work and investment.