Why I believe that we will have to break up Nominet, the UK domain’s registry

A few months ago I wrote about this (PDF) at ComputerWorld:

Nominet: a website, by any other name, would be more secure?

So Nominet – the people who own, manage and monetise the top-level .uk DNS domain – propose to allow creation of domain names directly under the UK suffix (PDF).

Thus instead of inflatable-widgets.co.uk you could instead own inflatable-widgets.uk, and it is argued that this is somehow better.

I would argue that in terms of the value it offers, the proposition is actually an irrelevance and potentially harmful overall.

Having top-level domains like “.uk” is certainly an elegant way to distinguish local services like www.gov.uk from www.gov.au – but you can see even in the titlebar of this posting that internet users at large have adopted many diverse ways of naming themselves.


The best example of this phenomenon that I have found so far is www.startupbritain.co – a national campaign by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, harnessing the expertise and passion of Britain’s leading businesspeople to celebrate, inspire and accelerate enterprise in the UK – which just happens to have a Colombian domain name.


People no longer care about the nationality of domain names – you know that bit.ly is a Libyan domain, right? – instead what they care about more is that domain names are consistent and that hosts are reachable, so that the link you received from a friend works just like it did for them, albeit he/she is in another country.

So I just wrote the following, in response to a query on the Open Rights Group Advisory maillist:

I’ve not yet bothered to write the followup posting to my original article, but to make a point: there’s a “tragedy of the commons” aspect to the whole thing, too.

Nominet are unilaterally declaring themselves to be not only the trustees of, but also the police and estate agents for, a negative form of space.

To put this into English it would be something like:

We own all conceivable subdomain names under “.uk” – excluding those which already exist such as {co,ac,gov,police,nhs,plc,ltd}.uk – and shall imbue any future domain name with security as an “added value“; and we shall police their usage and shall charge extra for them accordingly; conversely all existing domains (including gov.uk) are henceforth to be denigrated as insecure and should be treated accordingly.

They have declared a negative space* – everything that does not already exist – to be theirs, and to have pre-existing “security” qualities associated with it, qualities which will be theirs alone to exploit (ie: enforce) and for which homesteaders will have to pay.

It could be argued that Nominet have the privilege to do this / those rights already in their role as registrar, and I respect that argument; but if they were going to add value to something then I would prefer that they make a positive-space approach to it – eg: create a “*.nomisecure.uk” domain – which they police and sell real-estate beneath, and then open-up the possibility for competitors (Sophos, McAfee) to create similar.

Instead Nominet have grabbed negative-space – everything that does not already exist, including alecmuffett.uk, benlaurie.uk, net.wars.uk – and declared that it is premium realestate that will demand a premium price, and that they alone shall police it; or you can do your own security in addition but if you don’t come up to scratch / meet Nominet’s zoning requirements then you will be kicked out.

If they get their way then I shall be pushing for a campaign for Nominet to be broken up; as opposed to being some bureaucratic and not entirely unbeloved equivalent of the National Grid or English Heritage for the Internet namespace, they seem now to be bent upon profit maximisation, diversification into value-add services and exploitation of monopoly.

My belief is that the “.uk” TLD is a commons only slightly more commercial than the IPv4 address space – but fortunately restricted only by human imagination, not 32-bit wordlengths – and I believe that that commons should be overseen equitably and without telling people what they will have to do (ie: conform to Nominet’s policing) merely to be permitted to exist in it.

As such I foresee breaking up Nominet into a small and strictly not-for-profit trust to disburse chunks of “.uk” and then a series of companies that monetise those chunks with value add services.

Prettymuch like we are currently supposed to be, in fact.

* obligatory joke to explain the concept of negative space:

One day a farmer called up an engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician and asked them to fence of the largest possible area with the least amount of fence. The engineer made the fence in a circle and proclaimed that he had the most efficient design. The physicist made a long, straight line and proclaimed “We can assume the length is infinite…” and pointed out that fencing off half of the Earth was certainly a more efficient way to do it. The Mathematician just laughed at them. He built a tiny fence around himself and said “I declare myself to be on the outside.”

Nominet have done the latter.

Hence the title of this posting.

4 Replies to “Why I believe that we will have to break up Nominet, the UK domain’s registry”

  1. I see you reference the ISOC draft response, which I agree with :-).

    The breaking-up of Nominet is indeed the logical conclusion from this. There’s then the test of whether “logical” is also “reasonable”, and I don’t know whether it’ll come to that; as statements from ISOC and elsewhere will hopefully stall Nominet’s proposal for some period of time, the opportunity should arise to propose an alternative means to DNS, for assuring “where something is” from a liability perspective. NIST IR 7904 (Draft) shows promise, but it’s still relatively early days…

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