So Much .junk

It's good that Tim Berners-Lee has come out against creating lots of new top-level domains. In April, Berners-Lee wrote a white paper titled "New Top Level Domains Considered Harmful," in which he said adding new TLDs alongside .com, .org and .net should be done only after careful thought and when there's a clear benefit to users. He especially doesn't like the proposed .mobi TLD for Web pages aimed at cell phones and other mobile devices. And he repeated his criticism last week at the 13th International World Wide Web Conference in New York.

Of course, some people have been saying for years that new TLDs are a bad idea. Yes, Tim, it's good you've joined us.

But it's probably too late to matter.

OK, that's putting it too strongly. Berners-Lee invented the Web. When he speaks about the Internet, people pay attention. So it does matter that he thinks it's an especially bad idea to create a mobile-devices ghetto on the Web with .mobi. He's afraid we'll lose the device independence that's always a goal of the Web, even if it's not always perfectly achieved.

The whole idea is that you can see the same Web page on a PC, a TV screen, a handheld or any other Web device, no matter the screen size or resolution or other factors. Ghettoize mobile devices, and you've broken the way the Web functions. That's Tim's point, and he's right.

But Tim, where were you when we needed you -- in 1997?

That was the year the Internet's movers and shakers decided we should have more domain names. Lots more. The Internet Society and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority wrote the stupefyingly titled "Memorandum of Understanding on the Generic Top Level Domain Name Space of the Internet Domain Name System" (abbreviated -- honest! -- as gTLD-MoU).

The purpose of the gTLD-MoU was to push for more TLDs to join .com, .org and .net. How many more? Seven to start, but the gTLD-MoU-ers figured the Internet would eventually need hundreds of them "to provide a sufficiently rich name space as Internet exponential growth continues."

Too bad they weren't paying attention. By 1997, .com was already the default TLD for Web browsers and the preferred TLD for businesses. People didn't want .junk or .bunk at the end of their Web addresses. They wanted .com.

Users weren't pushing for more TLDs either. The biggest proponents of new TLDs were would-be registrars who figured .com was a gold mine, so there must be money in .junk too.

If Berners-Lee had come out forcefully in 1997 against adding lots of new TLDs, people might have listened. He might have been able to stop the .junk madness before all the lawsuits over which new TLDs to add, and when. And before businesses wasted so much money on .junk domain names they didn't need but had to buy to protect their trademarks.

Or maybe it wouldn't have mattered. In any case, we know how it turned out: The marketplace spoke, and it said "dot-com." The .junk TLDs never took off. They're still out there -- they're just a nuisance.

And .mobi? Sure, it's good to have Berners-Lee campaigning against it. It's a bad idea to wall off "mobile" Web content from the rest of the Web. And not just because it breaks the Web's device independence.

It's a bad idea because it's another waste. Cell phones and wireless handhelds need less and less special treatment. Their connections keep getting faster. Their processors keep getting more powerful. Their screens keep getting bigger - and within a few years, we could have mobile devices with "virtual screens" an inch across that read like a 19-in. monitor.

Who'll need .mobi then? Nobody.

It'll be just so much more .junk.

Frank Hayes, Computerworld's senior news columnist, has covered IT for more than 20 years. Contact him at

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Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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