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Engineers on TLDs: Do You Want Me With Fries?

During ICANN’s public forum in Cape Town, an interesting conflict accidentally came up, even if somewhat concealed by the usual exchange of well-known views on whether ICANN should finally allow the world to get more new Top Level Domains (TLDs) on a regular basis.

I know I am oversimplifying thoughts and positions, but basically the discussion was between a couple of 30-year-old engineers from the floor asking to be given the opportunity to try new things, and a couple of 60-year-old engineers from the podium putting up any kind of unproven excuses and plain sets of supercazzole con scappellamento a destra to prevent that from happening.

I am not saying that there is no need for caution in adding new domains to the root zone, but let’s be clear: from a technical standpoint, if we could send a man to the moon, and also run a DNS zone with 30 million registrations in it, I can’t see any reasonable problem in having thousands of domain names at the root level (unless I can get some really credible technical explanation, of which I cannot think at the moment, and which no one up to date ever provided).

So why are these well respected (and I do respect and esteem them a lot!) fathers of the internet opposing new additions to the root zone? Are they secretly being paid by VeriSign? Not at all.

My guess would be that they might be victims of a well known malady that affects all brilliant engineers (and also some not brilliant ones, like myself): the so-called nih syndrome.

That derives from the fact that engineering, and particularly system architecture design, makes you effectively a god. You take a piece of scratch paper, you write some lines and boxes, et voil?: fiat lux. And so, much like gallia omnis divisa in partes tres, thy domains be divided in com/net/org/gov/mil/edu/int, and so be it.

But then, fifteen years later, younger engineers come and tell you that your lines and boxes (or, in this case, your partitions of the generic domain name space) are no longer fit, since they would like to add new partitions. I can just imagine, if I were the person who designed that!

I mean, from the engineering point of view, what kind of sense does “biz” make, since we already have “com”? And what about “aero”? They should be a subset of dot com, right? “Technically”, all of this doesn’t make sense - it’s just those bad marketing guys who always try to mess things up with irrelevant questions such as “nice, but what is it for?” or “why did we spend 48 man-years to remake our product with a new architecture and programming language, if now it’s doing the very same things it was doing before?”.

To be honest, “technically” almost everything makes sense. Yes, there are design choices that work well and other that don’t work as well, but I’ve rarely encountered systems that were such a failure in design terms not to be able to meet any functionality requirement - while I’ve encountered many more which were technically perfect, but were left sleeping in a closet because they weren’t meeting any kind of actual user need.

This is why engineering solutions are not carved in stone, and young engineers have always been eating up old engineers since

gave engineering to the world. That’s not because the old solutions were better than the new ones, or the opposite, but because new needs and new expectations arose among the users of the technology.

So, even being an engineer and having suffered much from being constantly treated by non-engineer colleagues as a commodity, I’m starting to think that the only answer that old engineers should be allowed to utter whenever some user comes up with a new need or a new way to use the internet is “yes, sir”.

Or at most, “do you want me with fries, sir?”

By Vittorio Bertola, ICANN At Large Advisory Committee, Chairman

Filed Under


Jothan Frakes  –  Dec 18, 2004 3:12 AM

I was in attendance at the Cape Town ICANN Meetings, and watched these conferences take place.

Is this the same argument of intelligence versus wisdom?

I have an interesting perspective on this.  I am one of those thirty-something engineers (not those that presented), yet I have experience at operating root-listed TLDs under much of the status-quo period during the past decade.

In my experience, it is certainly possible to do many innovative and experimental things with DNS.

I have seen TXT records used for a variety of things, from VPN tunnelling PPP or P2P networking via DNS, for presentation of whois, or for other uses such as SMS transmission or RSS feeds. 

I have seen wildcard records in root TLD zones improve the user experience to drive browser IDN without the requirement of helper applications or browser upgrades.

These are certainly radically different uses than are conventionally done.  The key thing I have found is that the ideas don’t always turn out as popular as the rationalizations made by the folks who happen to want to capitalize on the ideas.

Just because these things can be done, there is a need to appreciate the larger framework that needs to be considered in the process so that these uses don’t break other things.

I have had the opportunity to discuss radical ideas I have had with some folks that I suspect that you reference as 60-something-panelist engineers. 

They get it, get excited about the ideas, and I really don’t sense fear or concern in the conversations, but rather an indication of additional things to consider or attempt as part of succeeding.  Sometimes, I am presented with projection of what the idea creates plotted out in further iterations than I could have imagined.

I truly get more of a sense of mentorship with than any indication of NIH syndrome.  But not always a ‘Yes, Sir’.

Personally, I like getting challenged like that.


James Seng  –  Dec 19, 2004 5:18 AM

One word: Lovely!

I was one of the 30-something engineers who “ask” for (IDN) TLD.

While I can sense some consensus on stage and off-stage of the need of IDN TLDs, the response I get from 60-something engineers (whose status is close to been ‘God’ right now) revolves around trying to get things 100% right before proceeding.

Don’t get me wrong: I have great respects for elderly engineers who has contributed so much to make Internet what is today - and I always value their wisdoms and advises.

But seeking perfect solution is no difference then say ‘no’ - at least to the one making the request.

Ram Mohan  –  Dec 21, 2004 1:20 PM

It is a rare occassion when “30-something” (or any age something) engineers say that we don’t need to get engineering right before we deploy ... let’s just “Try it out”.

Our engineering education taught us (or at least it should have!) to apply science and logic and rationale, rather than emotion and rhetoric.

Unfortunately, both Vittorio’s and James Seng’s posts show more of the rhetoric and little of the rationale.

It’s all very well to say goodbye to the “old guard” but we better learn to listen to why they are saying what they are saying, and not just dismiss them as has-beens.  They have, after all, walked many miles around the proverbial block.

Ram Mohan (A 30-something engineer)

Christopher Ambler  –  Dec 21, 2004 9:09 PM

Ram, that’s pretty easy to say when you make your living from a generic registry, and no new generic registries are allowed to compete.

I’m a 30-something engineer. I was a 20-something engineer when I proposed .Web (you remember .Web, right? The domain that your company tried to get, knowing that someone else had already proposed and built it out?).

It’s been ten years that I’ve been waiting to compete.

I suppose I’ll be waiting another ten, as long as the fear, uncertainty and doubt continue to be thrown around in a poorly-disguised attempt to restrain competition for the insiders currently enjoying a closed market.

Ram Mohan  –  Dec 21, 2004 10:08 PM

Chris, I was not at Afilias when you applied for .web ... so I don’t have the history.  I have read some of your posts and realize your angst.

>I suppose I’ll be waiting another ten, as long as the fear, uncertainty and doubt
>continue to be thrown around in a poorly-disguised attempt to restrain
>competition for the insiders currently enjoying a closed market.

It’s one thing to say “let’s compete”, another to say “all these 60-year olds are incompetent and should just say “yes, sir” to anything that “young engineers” propose, just because they happen to be born later.

I belive competition is a good thing (regardless of your perception of me/my employer); that’s why I think when someone like Tim Berners-Lee essentially says “all we need is .com” or “we only need TLDs that provide social or technical value” is so very wrong.

However, take a look at this registry competition—EVERY week, .COM cleans out all its competitor’s clocks in new registrations.  Every week, .COM sells more names than (NET+ORG+INFO+BIZ+NAME+US) COMBINED!

It’s still not far away from being a monopoly…

Christopher Ambler  –  Dec 21, 2004 10:16 PM

.com cleans everyone else’s clocks because it’s the dominant player in a market that has seen precious little competition. Info and Biz are, arguably, the only competition introduced. Net and Org are reasonably full, ccTLDs have their own market position, and the rest of the “new” TLDs are specialized to the point of obscurity.

If you want to compete with .com, you need robust competition. Not just one or two new TLDs, but 10 or 15.

And, though I’m biased, I still, ten years later, feel that .Web could compete with them all. Apparently so do the existing players. Funny, that.

Ram Mohan  –  Dec 22, 2004 3:14 AM

Even ccTLDs for the most part have a hard time breaking past the half-a-million mark.

The thing is, .COM got branded during the go-go 90’s.  It’s the “default” domain on most registrar sites.  It’s a safe choice, even though it’s very unlikely to get the exact name you want.

Even though INFO is the most successful new gTLD, it is still very small compared to COM.  Afilias as a company is small in comparison to VeriSign or NeuStar (not in terms of engineering skill, though :))

Whether 10-15 TLDs will displace COM from its perch is an exercise in speculation, hard to discuss meaningfully - maybe you’re right, but then again…

Christopher Ambler  –  Dec 22, 2004 4:26 AM

I believe strongly I’m right, as we paid well for studies in the 2000 application phase - something that the other two applicants for .Web didn’t seem to do. But I digress.

With proper marketing, anything could beat .com. With even less, .Web can beat .com. I’m prepared to put my money where my mouth is. Is Afilias prepared to agree with you in public, Ram? Don’t you think it’s time we find out?

Vittorio Bertola  –  Dec 22, 2004 9:36 AM

Ok, of course I was being provocative - as you sometimes have to do, when things seem stuck. Also, I’ve never said that you shouldn’t listen to what the “old guys” say.

I’ve just said that they shouldn’t be allowed to stop further innovation by “latecomers” without giving clear and credible technical reasons.

I’ve still to hear any credible technical reason to support the idea that we can’t add 100 new gTLDs in a minute…

James Seng  –  Dec 23, 2004 7:23 AM


I would love to hear the “science and logic and rationale” in the arguments for why we cannot have more TLDs[1]. I would love nothing more to argue purely on logic.

However, a non-rationale answer would invite a rhetorical response.

[1] See related post

The Famous Brett Watson  –  Dec 24, 2004 4:36 AM

After some consideration, I am leaning toward the judgement that this is not a case of NIH syndrome, but something similar to it: traditionalism. NIH syndrome relates to technologies, and the question of which TLDs should or should not be put in place is almost entirely a non-technical issue. For example, there are no technical considerations whatsoever in making a decision between “.web” and “.mobi” as candidate TLDs. From a technical perspective, they are both valid TLDs, suitable for use in hostnames, and that ends the matter. Everything beyond that is a social, economic, or legal question.

Note that I am making a distinction here between the name itself and the intended use thereof, which is an important distinction in these days of “sponsored TLDs”. With “sponsored TLDs”, the name is supposed to be closely tied to the intended use, unlike the gTLDs and ccTLDs which are completely arbitrary and under disparate political control, respectively. Thus, Tim Berners-Lee is right when he says that “.mobi” is ill-advised from a technical perspective, not because of anything to do with “.mobi” as a top level domain name, but because of the intended use to which it was bound. But note that there are no such issues with gTLDs (since their intended use is just to delegate subdomains indiscriminately), and the question of whether sTLDs are a better idea than gTLDs is not a technical matter either. Any body that makes such a decision is not technical, but rather a social steering committee, acting in the role of a government.

To put it another way, the problem is that engineers are making non-technical decisions. Those engineers who have been using the Internet the longest are most likely the ones who pine for the good old days before spam and all the other social ills that increasing numbers bring. They are likely to resist change simply because they liked the Internet the way it was, and don’t want to change it. The major blockage to new TLDs is that the traditionalists just don’t *want* new TLDs.

I, for one thirty-something engineer, have great respect for my elders in the engineering field, and I find the “do you want me with fries” quip quite distasteful. On the other hand, I’d like to emphasise that there are many senior engineers whose technical talents I respect, but whose leanings on social/governance matters I disagree with strongly.

Vittorio Bertola  –  Dec 24, 2004 11:17 AM

Just for clarity, I never meant to be disrespectful or distasteful - just somewhat funny. I am sorry if you didn’t like the catchy line.

Ram Mohan  –  Dec 24, 2004 3:10 PM

Vittorio, unfortunately, the humor doesn’t shine through, it reads as just plain mean.

James, read my comments about welcoming more competition (above).  It still doesn’t take away my surprise a 30-something engineer (you) condoning not getting details right before implementing them.

Vittorio Bertola  –  Dec 24, 2004 5:17 PM

Point taken. (It’s a pity that the only option I have to participate is by using my fourth language in order of learning, though nowadays I’m using it almost as much as my primary mother tongue… but that’s part of the game.)

James Seng  –  Dec 30, 2004 2:23 AM

Pls do not put words into my mouth: There is a difference between getting it ‘right’ and getting it ‘perfect’.

Nothing wrong with the first, but latter is a pipe dream.

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