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Study on Improving Internet Usability: A Framework for Domain Name Policy Evaluation

A domain name is a unique alphanumeric designation that facilitates reference to sets of numbers which actually locate a particular computer on the Internet. Domain names are a fundamental part of the Internet’s user interface. Improving the usability of the Internet depends upon effective domain name policy. This study is intended to contribute to improvement in Internet usability for the end users of domain names. Benefits of more usable domain names include: higher sales, customer satisfaction and productivity, and reduced support costs.

Domain name policies worldwide vary considerably. Consequently, end users are inconvenienced by contradictory domain name policies, diminishing the predictability of an entity’s domain name, and thus decreasing usability for end users.

The study objective was to develop criteria with which policy makers can evaluate their domain name policies, in order to improve the usability of domain names for end users. The main research question posed was: What are the criteria for an effective domain name policy? The research methodology included a literature review, domain name policy examination and an ethnographic narrative.

The literature review found existing research examining either domain names or usability in isolation. However, research examining the intersection of the two is scarce. The existing research describes domain names as part of the web user interface. In practical terms, this is about how people use domain names to access web sites, email addresses and other Internet resources. It was established that the predictability (and thus usability) of domain names relies on effective domain name policy. The non-standardised and widely delegated process of domain name policy development leads to unpredictable and inconsistent domain names.

The narrative recollection presented the researcher’s inside perspective on the domain name industry, with a focus on domain name usability. The researcher provided first-hand insights into the evolution of the industry and policy development process, from Australian and international perspectives.

To address the problem of poor domain name usability, a framework for domain name policy evaluation is proposed. The framework extends the current research that treats domain names as a user interface by proposing criteria which address usability concerns. The framework allows policy makers to critically assess domain name policies with end users in mind. Examples of the criteria include: understanding who are its intended and untended users, and whether it’s consistent with other domain names. The framework has the potential to set an international standard for the critical evaluation of domain name policy, and become the basis for further research.

This study was developed from the researcher’s perspective as a participant in the domain name industry. A secondary lens regarding the usability of domain names was then applied. This study has only scraped the surface in terms of how the research fields of domain names and usability may be considered together. The research methodology for this study was primarily qualitative and interpretive. A quantitative study of domain name policies globally could provide further insight into areas including: the differences in second level country code domain names, and language implications of domain names.

Research Overview (18 page presentation, PDF) presented at the ICANN Cairo Meeting, November 2008
Final Full Thesis (128 pages, 34661 words, PDF) published October 2008

By Josh Rowe, CEO REALas, Previously Non Executive Director auDA

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Great study Jon Lawrence  –  Nov 13, 2009 1:44 AM

This is a great piece of work Josh.  I like your idea of a framework to help policy makers and the development of some international standards is definitely worthy of further investigation.

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