Why are they gaining steam and what does it mean for “real” top level domains?
There was a bit of discussion about blockchain-based domains at ICANN 73 this month.
The concept of an alt root is as old as ICANN, and previous iterations of these have failed to obtain the popularity necessary to compete with the “real” DNS. Is the current wave of alt-roots, such as Handshake, the ENS, and Unstoppable Domains, changing the narrative? Is it really different this time?
ICANN and the broader Internet Governance community share a history of opposition to alt roots (including ICANN’s most recent blog post telling alt-root domain registrants buyer beware). And ICANN has delayed Uni’s TLD sales due to bundling them with alt-root domains.
During ICANN 73, members of NARALO (North American Regional At-Large Organization) held a session on NFTs, blockchain, and alt roots. Jeff Neuman of JJN Solutions and Tom Barrett of Encirca gave an overview of cryptocurrency and NFTs and then dove into blockchain alt-root domains. They considered if ICANN should give any thought to potential name collisions with alt roots for the next round of TLDs.
The history of alternative roots largely involves efforts to replace the DNS, while Web3 technologies can conceivably coexist alongside. But what happens when companies inevitably apply for .crypto in the next new TLD round? Unstoppable Domains already runs a .crypto and has been trying to get some protection against new ICANN TLDs that match its domains.
The unanswered question is if ICANN should care. If Unstoppable’s .crypto has legs by then, the name collisions could be problematic. But giving Unstoppable Domains any preference for this and its other domains would encourage companies to create alt roots today to frontrun the next round of new TLDs, much like applicants (unsuccessfully) tried to do with trademark frontrunning in the last round.
The discussion continued in the public forum, with a particular interest in what ICANN could do about the rise of Web3: avoiding name collisions in the next round, encouraging possible collaboration between ICANN and alt roots, or at least considering why people are turning to alt roots to explore whether there’s something that may apply to ICANN or the DNS.