A Dutch company has launched a new Internet addressing service that does away with the most common top-level domains (TLDs), such as .com and .edu, and allows organizations and individuals to register Internet addresses that end with the name of their business, or virtually any other word they choose.
UnifiedRoot S & M BV, based in Amsterdam, said its system allows its customers to use more intuitive Internet addresses that are easier to remember. They can combine the TLDs with second-level domains for categories of products and services, such as fruit.supermarket and vegetables.supermarket, for example.
"Take CNN," said Erik Seeboldt, UnifiedRoot's managing director. "They have a site http://www.cnn.com/mobile. With our service it would be just mobile.cnn."
The company has set up 13 master root servers around the world to run its domain name system (DNS), which it said will run "in parallel" with the Internet's principle DNS, run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). To avoid conflicts, UnifiedRoot won't register TLDs already registered by ICANN, it said.
Its success will depend partly on cooperation from ISPs, who'll have to update their DNS server directories in order for them to include UnifiedRoot's DNS servers. European ISP Tiscali SpA has made the change, according to Seeboldt, along with several local ISPs in Turkey.
Without the cooperation of ISPs, end users will have to reconfigure their own PCs to recognize the UnifiedRoot TLDs, which the company acknowledged could be tricky for some users.
UnifiedRoot won't register TLDs that infringe on another company's intellectual property, such as a trademark, it said. It hired a financial and administration services company, TMF Group, to oversee its registrations and financial management.
It costs US$1,000 to register a TLD and then $250 each year to renew it. UnifiedRoot won't give refunds to people who try to register recognized names in a bid to discourage "prospecting," when people buy a TLD with the goal of selling it for profit to its rightful owner .
The company is introducing its service at a time when ICANN is facing criticism for being too U.S.-centric in its management of the Internet. The debate came to a head at the recent World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, although little was resolved except an agreement to examine the issue further.
UnifiedRoot itself may come under fire for establishing a "parallel" DNS system that could only add to the complexity of the Internet's existing addressing system.
Paul Vixie, founder of the nonprofit Internet Systems Consortium, wrote in a blog posting last month about the dangers of meddling with the "universality" of the Internet's DNS. Without referring to UnifiedRoot specifically, he wrote that "those who claim to be able to add new 'suffixes' or 'TLDs' are generally pirates or con-men with something to sell."
Still, UnifiedRoot said it will follow "objective and transparent policies and strict ethical guidelines." The company is simply providing a value-added service on top of the existing domain name system, according to Seeboldt.
To help promote the service the company is offering to register TLDs for countries, cities and towns for free to their respective governments, Seeboldt said.
"We really need support from ISPs, but also from governments and corporations and individual Internet users," he said.
Addresses must be three to 18 characters long and can include letters in the Roman alphabet (a-z), the numbers 1 to 9 and hyphens. The company is working to add support for other international character sets, although it won't say yet when that will be ready.
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