Who should own the Internet’s naming infrastructure?
Until recently, you may not have known that someone could own such a thing. The outcry over the sale of .ORG from a non-profit to a for-profit company has gotten many people talking about just this question for the first time regarding the Internet’s ubiquitous-and-therefore-rarely-thought-about Domain Name System (DNS).
It’s also a critical question as we build the blockchain-based Internet naming infrastructure of the future.
While the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) is the leading blockchain-based naming infrastructure project, there are now several competing projects, many of which are run by VC-backed for-profit companies. They see how profitable it could be to own a basic piece of next generation Internet infrastructure and are aggressively working toward winning that prize.
We firmly reject this path. This is not the Internet we want to have in the future, nor the Internet we think most people want.
We strongly believe that this new blockchain-based naming infrastructure should, from the beginning, be open source, developed by the community, and managed by a non-profit without the influences at any stage of rent-seeking venture capitalists, and we have structured ENS accordingly.
This post explains in more detail the position we’ve taken and why it’s important we get this right.
Blockchain technology is a paradigm shift in how naming is accomplished on the Internet. The hierarchical server structure of traditional DNS first developed in the 1980s can, with ENS, be replaced by a few lines of smart-contract code, achieving in the process better security and robustness, as well as new features like programmability and interactivity with other smart-contracts.
But beyond the technical benefits of the new system, the creation of a new paradigm is a time of critical social importance, because it is an opportunity to set the ground rules for the new era. Social precedents, once set and adopted by a large group, are like basic protocol rules: they technically can change, but with great difficulty and usually eventually ossify, only to be overturned by the next paradigm shift. Which means we need to not only get the technological parameters right, we also need to thoughtfully set the social parameters.
We’ve previously explained why we won’t create more top-level domains and instead support the continued management of the Internet namespace by the non-profit ICANN. It isn’t a matter of technology — creating thousands of new TLDs is trivial with or without a blockchain— but is a matter of the intrinsic need for social coordination for Internet naming to work. A good explanation of this from the earlier days of the Internet is given in ICP-3.
Another major issue is who will own and manage the blockchain-based Internet naming infrastructure of the future.
Should the new blockchain-based Internet naming infrastructure of the future be open or closed source? Should it be managed by a non-profit or by venture capitalists? What should the financial incentive model be in its design?
As a community, we have the opportunity right now to choose to embrace an open source non-profit community model, or else allow a for-profit company to capture the new system.
We firmly believe that Internet naming is basic infrastructure. It shouldn’t be owned by anyone anymore than the email protocol should be. This is why we have set up ENS the way we have:
ENS has always been and will always remain open source. You can find all of the ENS code on Github right here. We welcome contributions and feedback!
ENS has public discussions and writes EIPS for significant changes. In addition to our annual in-person workshop, we encourage people to join the public discussions about the current state and future of ENS on our forum and Gitter.
ENS has always been and will always remain managed by a non-profit organization. ENS started as a side project at the non-profit Ethereum Foundation. After its initial success, it spun out with its own non-profit organization, True Names LTD. It has no investors and never did an ICO. We have been funded by grants thus far, with the Ethereum Foundation as our largest patron. We’ve also recently received funding from .ETH name auctions and annual renewal fees, which we hope will be able to provide sustainable funding for the project long-term.
While ENS is the leading blockchain-based naming infrastructure project, there are several VC-backed for-profit competing projects.
We have no objections to for-profit companies in general, but we believe it’s inappropriate for something as fundamental as Internet naming infrastructure to be owned or controlled by a for-profit company. It also means that the incentives are different for how the naming system is designed: a for-profit company is focused on extracting value, while a non-profit can be focused more on the technical needs for the system in the long-term.
As a result of their different funding model, some of our competitors have raised significantly more money than ENS has ever had, enabling them to hire more developers, buy support from wallets and dapps to integrate their system, and do major ad spends targeting users who may not fully appreciate the significance of what is being offered and by whom.
We instead consider ENS to be a public good that belongs to the community and should be adopted with grassroots support. We’ve been blown away by the amazing community support and ecosystem adoption. Thank you for your support!
What kind of Internet do we want in the future?
We believe in an open Internet designed and operated for everyone, not one owned by a few companies. And that includes basic infrastructure like Internet naming.
If you agree, please join us! We encourage people to join the public discussions about ENS on our forum and Gitter, and we always welcome code contributions on Github. And of course, if you run a wallet or dapp, check out our documentation to learn how to integrate ENS.