Will the .coop fly?

Ill bet you thought Id forgotten all about our friends at ICANN and the ongoing effort to create new top-level domains (TLDs you know, like .com and .org). Dont you wish. Hell, dont I wish. Even the news that Dr. Vint Cerf, an actual Father Of The Internet, has taken over the chairpersonship of the Board of Directors from that tiny uber-capitalist Esther Dyson, even that couldnt get me started. And Vint Cerf is cool beans. How sad is that?

No, dear readers, I was waiting until I could say something nice, in the spirit of saying-something-nice-or-not-saying-anything-at-all, also known as Moms Theory Of Column Writing. I figure its the holidays after all, and this way when I go home and Mom starts bitching about how she hasnt got any grandkids I can say True, but look at this column see how I listened to every word you said when you said those words? Damn, I hope that holds her off. December tends to be a long and uncomfortable month in your typical American interfaith household. But I digress.

Anyway, I whistled a happy tune and waited for a happy angle; when the new TLDs were announced I took a look at ICANNs list. There are seven new TLDs, all expected to be up and running by mid-2001: .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro. Lets see: seven out of how many can the Nets infrastructure conceivably support? oh, yeah, millions. Seven. Thats not happy, thats dopey. Different dwarf entirely. Let us move on.

All the new TLDs but one (.info) are meant for specific segments of the Net: the air-transport industry, businesses, individuals, professional folk (accountants, lawyers, physicians), and so on. Theres no .sex and no .kids, categories which ICANN claimed were too ill-defined (Esther, you really need to get out more) and liable to be abused. ICANN turned down the World Health Organizations bid to create and manage a .health TLD for the same reason a gorgeously arrogant gesture.

The UN-backed health organization isnt the only established entity that got shut out. Name.Space, which has been registering and operating new domains since 1996, didnt get a blessed one of the 118 TLDs on its application approved. Neither did Web Registry, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Lycos (as part of the DotNOM and DotPRO consortia), or Novell — surely a company that knows at least a little bit about administering network services. Just seven of the 44 companies applying for TLDs were successful; however, the 37 rejected applicants can take cold comfort in the knowledge that their non-refundable $50,000 application fees were warmly welcomed and are currently sitting in a $1,850,000 pile in the ICANN piggy bank.

Those folks arent happy, but according to Dyson therell be no quarter given to the likes of Name.Space if they think theyre so smart operating TLDs without her permission, by God theyll just have to forge ahead on their own. Dyson says having other TLD services nipping at [ICANNs] heels will keep us hopping, like a new supermarket opening in a small town will encourage the other shopkeepers to shine up their apples and smile big at the customers. Dyson doesnt mention how confused your rank-and-file Net user gets when confronted with URLs using alternate TLDs generally, they cant reach such Web sites without lots of help but didnt her free-market platitude sound pretty?

Rogue TLD registrars such as Name.Space presumably could have gotten back into ICANNs good graces if theyd hooked up with Afilias, the new keeper of the .info TLD. Afilias is actually a consortium of several would-be registrars who came in from the cold and somehow got respectable enough for ICANN to like them. Prominent among the membership: the dreaded Network Solutions, the very company that has (mis)managed the .com, .net and .org TLDs all these years and whose unfair control of those domains led to much of this TLD mess in the first place.

But we werent going to talk about all that. No one expects much better of ICANN for now, though the new at-large reps are a promising lot and Vint Cerf is, well, Vint Cerf. Instead Id like to share with you some happy thoughts about .coop, one of the new TLDs.

A cooperative, as PCC and Madison Market shoppers know, is a business in which buyer and sellers work together to get and provide goods and services. Its a good system, but its fragile an unscrupulous operator or one who doesnt get the cooperative ethos can ruin things for lots of hard-working folk. When ICANN opened a forum for public comment on the various TLD candidates, .co-op and .coop (both versions were proposed by the National Cooperative Business Association) got over 300 letters of support, more than any other potential TLD. Since a number of the letters were sent by cooperative umbrella organizations around the world, the NCBA estimates that the comments actually represented 750,000 co-ops worldwide and 725,000,000 members thereof.

Now that the TLD is secure, the NCBA promises to restrict ownership of .coop domains to businesses operating on cooperative principles like member ownership and democratic control. That means consumers get quality assurance, right-thinking businesses get a hard-to-fake seal of authenticity, and the concepts of community and self-reliance get a little boost in this wicked WTO world. And to top it off, the proposal establishes a digital divide fund to help member co-ops in developing countries get online.

Isnt that great? See, things arent all bad. ICANN tells us that if these first seven TLDs launch smoothly, others could be approved sooner rather than later. The .coop TLD is a Good Thing. And I finally got to say something nice about ICANNs strange ways. Dont we all feel better now?

 
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