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Signposts in Cyberspace: The Domain Name System and Internet Navigation 9 The Domain Name System and Internet Navigation As the preceding chapters show, the relationship between Internet navigation and the Domain Name System is complex and multi-dimensional. The Domain Name System (DNS) was defined centrally under the leadership of a relatively small group of Internet engineers in response to an operational need. Although its effective implementation occurred over several years, during which relatively small changes were made as required, the basic design of the system has remained the same for two decades. As described in Chapter 3, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) provide technical leadership and coordination for developing changes to the protocols and other standards affecting the DNS. Changes in the root zone file are controlled by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the U.S. Department of Commerce. But a mix of academic, governmental, commercial, and non-profit organizations with distributed responsibilities operates and manages the domains. The DNS stands, therefore, as an example of a technical system that was designed centrally but is operated by a distributed set of organizations. In contrast, Internet navigation aids and services have evolved through a sequence of innovations by separate and independent individuals and organizations, initially primarily by academics, and more recently, by commercial entities. Their evolution has been shaped by the response to the cumulative knowledge obtained through publication, the responses of the market to successive offerings, and the close study of competitive
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Signposts in Cyberspace: The Domain Name System and Internet Navigation offerings. Innovation continues, although perhaps at a slower pace than in the first few years. No central organization has affected the design or evolution of navigation aids and services, except to the extent that widely accepted Web protocols specify the structure of Web sites to be searched by search robots. Internet navigation aids and services are good examples of technologies that have developed and operated in a decentralized environment with investors, users, and advertisers—that is, market forces—determining which designs are successful. Despite the differences in the way in which they developed, the relationship between the DNS technical system and Internet navigation aids and services is strong and fundamental—the DNS has served as the stable core on which the incremental evolution of the different navigation aids and services has depended. Domain names are a key part of the Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) that identify the Web resources found by all Internet navigation aids and services, and when the user navigates to an identified resource, it is the DNS that retrieves its Internet Protocol (IP) address. However, since search engines and directories actually identify the IP address of a server resource directly, they could simply display it as the link to the resource without displaying its URL. That, of course, would deprive the user of the additional information that the descriptive elements of the URL, specifically the domain name, provide about the resource. But it suggests that, in the absence of a functioning DNS, search engines and directories could still allow users to navigate to many (if not all) desired locations on the public Internet. In sum, it is the DNS and Internet navigation aids and services working together that enables searchers to have successful and convenient access to the vast realm of Web resources. The institutional frameworks of the DNS and navigation services provide illuminating contrasts. The DNS is a single hierarchical technical system whose implementation is decentralized, but which adheres to open technical standards promulgated by an international technical community. It is guided by the general oversight of a non-profit organization and the stewardship of the U.S. government, and is operated by a diverse, global collection of organizations and individuals. Except for the leasing of domain names, its services are made available at no direct charge to users. In contrast, Internet navigation services are provided by a large number of autonomous organizations, both commercial and non-commercial, operating proprietary or licensed technical systems, without any general oversight of either their technology or their operations. However, Internet navigation services are also offered at no direct charge to the users; advertisers cover much of the costs through the purchase of advertising insertions associated with search terms.
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Signposts in Cyberspace: The Domain Name System and Internet Navigation The rapid development of navigation technology in the past decade appears to have had a significant effect on the unintended uses of the DNS and the commercial pressures on it. In the early days of the Web, guessing of domain names played an important role in navigation to Web sites. As noted in Chapter 2, that led to a rapid increase in the economic and social value of “good” domain names, especially those in the .com domain, and to a correspondingly “hot” market in their sale and resale. While such domain names remain valuable for their identifier function (in a URL or on the side of a bus), their role in navigation has been replaced to a significant degree by the use of search terms in search engines. Correspondingly, much of the commercial concern about registering notable domain names appears to have been transferred to the commercial business of purchasing effective search terms on the various navigation services. To some extent, this also appears to be shifting some of the concern with protecting trademark rights on the Internet from domain names to search terms. Conclusion: Both the Domain Name System and Internet navigation services will be significant elements of the Internet for the foreseeable future. Both will continue to evolve, as will the interrelationships between them. Conclusion: The governance and administration of the DNS should not become a vehicle for addressing political, legal, or economic issues beyond those of the DNS itself. Conclusion: The development of Internet navigation services is likely to continue to relieve some of the commercial pressures on the DNS as users become increasingly comfortable with using these services as their primary means to navigate the Internet. Conclusion: The preservation of a stable, reliable, and effective Domain Name System will remain crucial both to effective Internet navigation and to the operation of the Internet and most of the applications that it supports. Recommendation: The demonstrated success of the DNS and navigation aids and services in meeting the basic needs of Internet users should not be jeopardized by efforts to constrain or direct their evolution outside of the open architecture of the Internet, or to use them to enable control of the free flow of information across the Internet.
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