30 Jun Extending DNS with linkets
DNS (Domain Name System) is globally successful. It made email and ftp easier. Would you rather email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com? The first killer app of the Internet was email and DNS was arguably the second killer app. But it was the next killer app that really drove the growth of the Internet. The Web, nee World Wide Web, but that’s so 1990s.
But DNS is not perfect by today’s standards. It has problems.
- US bias. Look at .edu, .gov, .mil. The .edu is reserved for US schools and universities. The .gov is for US federal, state and local governments. And .mil is for the US military.
- China and India (and others) were late to get domains. By the time they had significant numbers of Internet users, many of the best dot com domains were taken. Intel.com, Amazon.com, Apple.com etc. English words that were taken over by their current owners and used with great marketing effect.
When you look for DNS problems, they are rarely presented as above. Usually it’s just described as the restriction of the domain symbols to ASCII (a-z, 0–9 and a few other symbols). In response, a decades long effort arose to fully make domains international. A lot of hard, good work. But all this leaves the first problem unaffected.
In defense of the American effort, there were good reasons when DNS was done in the 1970s and 80s for the restrictions imposed at the time. Unicode did not exist. And China and India had a very small presence in world business. Chinese and Indian GDPs were less than Belgium’s. There was no intent by the US to discriminate against others, and there was little market need to be more inclusive. Remember that the Internet and DNS were American inventions, paid for by grants from the US Department of Defense. DNS was a quick lightweight kludge by a few engineers that worked. There was no grand scheme to thwart other countries.
But something else happened in the last 20 years. Mobile phones went global. Today some 4 billion people have some type of cellphone, and 3 billion do not. Many phones let you connect to the Internet. To use a browser or to run apps. There are 2 ways to do so. Via your phone carrier or via a WiFi (or WiMax) hotspot. The overall idea is the same. Your phone gets a network address inside a private subnet. The latter has a gateway that connects to the Internet. Your Internet address is the gateway’s Internet address plus some port number assigned to your device by the gateway.
This whole gateway and subnet arrangement was itself a bit of a kludge to overcome a looming shortage of IPv4 addresses. Now that IPv6 is common, it is possible for your carrier to assign you an actual but temporary Internet v6 address. But even if you are in a subnet, just assume you have an address on the full Internet.
You do something on the Internet. You browse a few sites. You run a couple of apps. While you are active, you retain that temporary address. Eventually the carrier or hotspot will take it away and assign it to another user. Perhaps you are idle for some time, or you move out of the hotspot. How long would you typically be on the Internet? Maybe an hour or so.
See Figure 1. The y axis is the amount of time that your device has an address. From less than 1 hour to 2 hours to 24 hours to 1 year or more. See the horizontal line at 24 hours. Above this line is where your device is a desktop machine. When it has an address for 24 hours or more, it can host your domain. 3 examples are shown. BTW — those domains are older than the Web. Engineers at all 3 were active on the early Internet.
DNS lives above that 24 hour mark. And the machines hosting domains are desktops or mainframes.
Now look below 24 hours, where cellphones are used. And not too many for 24 hours active at a time. 1 and 2 hours are more typical. The users are all carrying phones. (A few others might use laptops.) Under each user is a linket brand owned by her or him. Collectively the linkets are designated by the label [linket]. The first linket is in Hindi. The second is in English, and notice the whitespace. The presence of leading and trailing delimiters (‘[‘ and ‘]’) means white space can be used regardless of language. And note also the upper and lower case in [Gamer Jill]. The 3rd linket is in Chinese. The 4th linket is in Russian.
Linkets use Unicode. All languages are treated equally. Unlike domains, users in China and India make brands in their own languages. It increases the accessibility for people who do not know English.
Figure 2 shows Registrars. Above 24 hours are the domain Registrars, with the largest being Verisign and GoDaddy. There are many more Registrars than shown here. Below 24 hours is Linket, the only Registrar in its name space.
How might a linket be used? Suppose Ann Jones is a tutor in Chicago. She would like to get the linket [Tutor Ann]. If someone already has it, she’ll try [Tutor Ann Jones]. As luck would have it, no one has [Tutor Ann]. She buys it. Thus far, this is identical to her buying a domain from Verisign.
She will tutor using her phone. She finds a tutoring app that suppports linkets. She contacts the Registry. She tells it the id of that app in the app store. If there are several app stores, she might also indicate which app store the app is in. Later she goes to some place where she uses her phone carrier to connect to the Internet. She runs the app in tutor mode. It boots up and waits at a port from a connection. It transmits her linket and network address to the Registry, which associates [Tutor Ann] with her address.
In Boston, Ralph needs tutoring on math. He runs a search on his phone browser. It gives several results, each with a link. Most are links to tutoring websites. One result is [Tutor Ann]. When he clicks it, his phone sends the linket string to the Registry, which returns a deep link, having the app id and Ann’s current address. Her phone checks the installed apps. If one of those is the tutoring app then it is run. Else it starts downloading the app from its app store, with his permission. The app is run with her address as input. It is run in student mode. It connects to her app. Ann tutors Ralph. He pays her thru the app. The app needs Ann. She brings in the Ralphs, who pay her and the app.
Other types of linket owners might be gamers, like [Gamer Jill] in Figure 1. By advertising her brand, she might play aspiring novice gamers who hope to improve their game. They would pay to play her. Or Jill could play computer opponents (Non Player Characters). Fans click her linket to watch her play. This is esports.
One way to do esports is for the firm that makes the game to make a read-only version. A fan clicking [Gamer Jill] would result in the latter app being installed and run. This has the significant benefit that there is no Twitch (or other Game Watching Platform) acting as a middleman between gamer and fans. By cutting out Twitch, the game makes fans its customers, whereas if they watch Jill on Twitch they are customers of Twitch.
On the issue of being late to the game, there are 360 million domains and only 21,000 linkets (in 70 languages). These are early days for linkets. Most linkets are in English. But the overall number of all linkets is so small compared to domains that every language starts out as equal. A nation with a billion people can easily make new labels. Who might they be?
The 330 million domains gives us a value for the TAM of the domain Registrars. The typical cost to get or renew a domain is $10/year. So the domain TAM is $3.3 billion. Many Registrars have ancillary revenue from other services, notably web hosting and page designing. But simply tallying the domains gives a good measure of the pure TAM of domains.
The domain business is now mature. But its TAM can be taken to be the TAM of linkets. Domains are the closest market to linkets.
Looking at Figure 2, what stops a domain Registrar encroaching on the mobile space? 11 US patents. But also because DNS best practices encourage a domain to be hooked to an address for at least 24 hours. To ensure that the root servers all have the same information about the domain. As a practical matter, when a domain is put at an address, that address often remains fixed for months.
The inclusion of domains with millions of addresses changing hourly into the DNS databases might have bad effects on the workings.
The domain Registrars are regulated by ICANN. A domain is a string that maps to an Internet address. So
domain = where (on the Internet)
As described earlier, a linket is a (Unicode) string that maps to an id of an app in a mobile app store and to an Internet address.
linket = what (an app) + where (on the Internet)
This difference puts linkets outside the remit of ICANN.
Linkets are used independently of DNS. (Though this might change in the future.) Operationally, linkets collectively do not constitute another TLD.
This article arose from a simple observation. Look at the lower half of Figure 1, where phones get a temporary address for less than 24 hours. There is much wireless network activity here. But little use of a brand as a stable proxy for transient addresses. Akin to the wired desktop Internet of 1995, but where DNS had never been invented. Today it is axiomatic that DNS would have value on those 1995 desktops. The wireless market blossomed after 1995 but the actual existing DNS stymied the birth of a simple different system.
Disclosure: The author is a volunteer member of ICANN