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Internet Navigation and the Domain Name System: Technical Alternatives and Policy Implications



 Signposts in Cyberspace: The Domain Name System and Internet Navigation examines the performance and prospects of the Domain Name System from technical and institutional perspectives, and also looks at how navigation technologies and institutions facilitate finding and accessing Internet resources. It describes the evolution of the technologies and institutions that have supported the growth of the Internet and provides the basis for future decisions that will enable its productive evolution.

Project Scope

This project will examine the future of Internet navigation and the domain name system (DNS) in light of the evolution and interaction of Internet usage, information technology, the economy, and society. The original purpose of the DNS was to provide identifiers for network objects that are more easily remembered and enduring than the numerical addresses and port numbers used by the network infrastructure. However, domain names are now often used for purposes for which they were not originally intended, such as searching, corporate identification and marketing. And certain domain names, especially those in the .com top-level domain, have acquired substantial economic value, leading to conflict and competition over their ownership and a perceived scarcity of desirable names.

The continuing increase in the number of Internet users and sites, the deepening integration of the Internet into the economy and social processes; the growth in embedded computing devices, and the possible introduction of permanent personal and object identifiers -- among other factors -- pose challenges to the continued viability and usefulness of the DNS, as currently constituted. This project will describe and evaluate emerging technologies and identify how they might affect the ability of users to find what they are seeking on the Internet and the role of the DNS. Some of the topics to be considered include: extension of the DNS through the addition of generic top level domains and multilingual domain names; introduction of new name assignment and indexing schemes (including alternate root servers); adoption of new directory structures or services for locating information resources, services, or sites of interest; and deployment of improved user interfaces.

The technologies that support finding information on the Internet are deployed within a complex and contentious national and international policy context. As is true in other contexts relating to trademarks and comparable identifiers, the "right" to use a particular domain name can often be disputed. These disputes include conflicts among commercial claimants as well as conflicts between non-commercial and commercial claimants. Effective solutions must consider the potentially competing interests of domain name owners and trademark holders; the different interests of stakeholders including businesses, from small firms to multinational corporations; educational, arts, and research institutions; not-for-profit charitable and service organizations; government entities at all levels from town to nation; nation-states and international organizations; and individuals (i.e., the general public); as well as public interests such as freedom of speech and personal privacy.

The project's report will examine the degree to which the options offered by new technology or new uses of existing technology can mitigate concerns regarding commercial and public interests (which will include a discussion of trademark-related issues), facilitate or impede further evolution of the Internet, and affect steps being taken to enhance competition among domain name registrars, the portability of Internet names, and the stability of the Internet. For each of the prospective technologies, the final report is expected to characterize the institutions, governance structures, policies, and procedures that should be put in place to complement it and will specify the research (if any) required to design, develop, and implement the technology successfully. Also identified will be the options foregone or created by particular technologies and the difficulties associated with each technological alternative.

Committee Members

Roger Levien, Chair
Strategy & Innovation Consulting
Principal and Founder

S. Robert Austein
Software Engineer
Internet Systems Consortium

Stanley Besen
Vice President
Charles River Associates

Christine L. Borgman
Professor & Presidential Chair in Information Studies
Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
University of California, Los Angeles

Timothy Casey
Executive Director
Institute for Innovation and Informatics
University of Nevada

Hugh Dubberly
Dubberly Design Office

Patrik Fältström
Consulting Engineer
Office of the Chief Strategy Officer
Cisco Systems

Per-Kristian Halvorsen
Solutions and Services Technology Center
Hewlett-Packard Research Labs
Marylee Jenkins
Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn, PLLC

John C. Klensin
Independent Consultant

Milton L. Mueller
Associate Professor and Director
Graduate Program in Telecommunications and Networking Management
School of Information Studies
Syracuse University

Sharon Nelson
Washington State Attorney General's Office
Consumer Protection Division

Craig Partridge
Chief Scientist
Internet Research Department
BBN Technologies

William Raduchel
Chairman and CEO
Ruckus Network

Hal R. Varian
School of Information Management and Systems
University of California, Berkeley



Alan S. Inouye, Senior Program Officer (through January 2005)
Cynthia Patterson, Program Officer (through March 2004)
Kristen Batch, Associate Program Officer
Margaret Huynh, Senior Project Assistant


This project is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Science Foundation and is mandated by the U.S. Congress through Public Law 105-305.