No brains, no domains

OK, let's see if I have this right:

At Boeing, the engineers (as I write this) are striking: No brains, no planes.

At Safeco Field: No Griffey, ain't spiffy.

In Ballard: I can't think of anything that rhymes with Solvorn, which was Ballard's last Scandinavian restaurant; its closing leaves that community a shade closer to being just another boring yuppie enclave and leaves me with no lutefisk, the secret ingredient in composing more of these columns than I think you realize.

On the Net: NSI sucks, etoy's out of luck.

I know I promised we'd have no more talk of etoy and etoys, those notorious domain-name warriors. Believe me, I wish I didn't have to wade in again. But given the choice of writing about the massive-attack hack barrage (the geek-community rumors that this was a NSA burning-the-Reichstag-style fakeout to get public support for Clinton's proposals for massive Department of Defense expenditures on wiretap capabilities seem nutty; on the other hand, whoever heard of a hack this substantial that didn't immediately get claimed by its perpetrators? And gee, wasn't it sweet of the FBI to cook up a hack-discovering diagnostic tool that runs on servers as root?) or the ongoing domain-name travails of that well-known art site, I like to stick with the topic that's not moving at light speed as I write this column. Etoy.com, frozen solid, fits the bill.

In January, the toy retailer (with an S) and the art collective (no S) had put down their battle-axes and started working things out. Claims and counterclaims were dropped, the toy retailer had agreed to pay the artists' legal fees, and the etoy.com domain was expected to come back to life within days.

It all sounded so good, but we forgot that Network Solutions (NSI), the domain-name folks, are the people in charge of flipping that last switch. You remember NSI; if you yourself have a domain registered, you see them in your nightmares.

Just because the two etoy/s have resolved their issues doesn't mean that NSI is willing to allow the etoy domain-name server information to propagate (that is, to tell the Net's traffic-directing computers where to find the etoy site). What's the holdup? For a change, NSI didn't entirely pull this one out of their butt, despite claims in etoy's ongoing mail-bombing campaign that this was the case. There was, in fact, a court order directing them not to switch etoy.com on. Of course, in a better world NSI would have learned something from years of these conflicts and found a more Net-friendly system for working with the courts in cases that don't even pass what lawyers are wont to call the giggle test. Instead, NSI has perfected the art of collapsing immediately into a heap of feathers and then dragging its feet when situations are resolved.

Put another way, they respond primarily to judges rather than to the Net community they're allegedly serving. NSI responds to judges, judges respond to lawyers, lawyers respond to money, and money responds to the possibility of expanding its reach, which during the current domain-name shortage means expanding at the expense of any enterprise that isn't itself structured to play money games.

Which is where you get messes like etoy/etoys or the uproar over the journal Leonardo, published since 1968. It's currently being sued by TransAsia, a company that copyrighted the term "Leonardo" in 1995—not because the august journal is horning in on TransAsia's domain turf, but because the MIT journal turns up in Web searches on the word "Leonardo." You can see for yourself, if you can spot any mention of either entity in the sea of Leonardo diCaprio fan sites; presumably the actor was unavailable to be harassed by the French police who conducted the raid on the home of the 80-year-old-widow of Leonardo's founder. (Yes, this is a French thing. Don't bother with the French jokes; I typed in half a dozen before getting control of myself and choosing to end this paragraph right here.)

Of course, the sun is at last setting on NSI; ICANN, the new global administrative body for domain naming, is on the case. And everyone knows that a multinational committee with a demonstrated lack of interest in the opinions of the Net's rank and file is going to do a better job of resisting big-money and big-government pressures on the Net's development. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go install this nice little FBI-written piece of software on my computer; surely they know what's best. . . .

 
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