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Slashdot Ignorance Strikes Again!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Keywords: Technology, China

I like Slashdot; I really do. It makes keeping up with technology easy by gathering all the interesting headlines all in one place. That having been said, the tendency of Slashdot towards sensationalism, knee-jerk reactions, fan-boyism, and ignorance is quite annoying (to its credit, Slashdot is actually much better in this regard than other places, like Digg).

So I saw this Slashdot headline in my RSS aggregator today: China Prepares to Launch Alternate Internet. My first reaction was, "Oh no, what are those commies dreaming up of this time?" I read the blurb, the comments that were modded up, and then the articles. Admittedly, the articles were vague, and I think that the translator should have been fired, but it seems that Slashdotters had no idea what they were talking about.

First, most people thought that China was going to set up their own DNS system to handle domain names with Chinese characters (e.g., 刘锴.net). Since the existing .com and .net registries already allow International domain names (IDNs), this would certainly be a major conflict; this exact system was implemented some time ago. After reading the article, it seems that all that the Chinese government is doing is setting up three new TLDs whose lingustic translations are .cn, .com, and .net (e.g., 刘锴。网络), so there is no overlap or conflict whatsoever with the existing .com and .net setup, contrary to what most misinformed Slashdotters think. Just to make sure, I picked out a random Chinese-based domain registrar, and sure enough, these were just new TLDs that are listed alongside existing TLDs.

Of course, adding new TLDs without getting ICANN's blessing is not quite kosher, but ICANN's power is not legally binding, and since these involve adding new namespaces that other countries couldn't care less about, it doesn't really matter that much. Furthermore, to label this as an "alternate Internet" is really misleading. Screwing ICANN isn't quite the same as screwing the IANA; remember, this is only DNS that we're talking about; the network is still interconnected (and firewalled).

Finally, as expected, the "Chinese-government-is-evil" card was played. Not that I disagree--I think that it is "evil" and that it shouldn't have bypassed the ICANN like this--but this ignores two important problems. First, it is not clear how exactly this could be used to thwart freedoms. Yes, the government has control over the registrations under these new TLDs, but that was already the case with the original .cn, and all the other TLDs in the world are unaffected. Also, if they wanted to censor access via DNS, they could do so without any of this. Second, there are some legitimate benefits. It widens the cramped DNS namespace a little bit, and it is also convenient to not have to switch the keyboard input between the Latin and Chinese character sets, which is genuinely confusing for some people (including me at first).

This entry was edited on 2009/03/08 at 17:40:59 GMT -0500.

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