As the Internet grows into a widespread tool for social networking as much as a resource for information and people debate about the impact of concepts like Web 2.0, it's easy to forget that the system started as a private network built by the U.S. government to exchange information. Gradually, however, many important areas embraced the Internet, especially as it moved through academic institutions in the 1970s.
By 1984, many standards were in place, including the domain name system (DNS). You probably don't talk about the DNS on a daily basis, but if you have a computer and use it to browse the Internet and check e-mail, you definitely make good use of it. The DNS is simply the standard used to direct traffic to Web sites and e-mail addresses. Every site has what's called an Internet Protocol (IP) address, which basically acts just like a telephone number. The IP address for howstuffworks.com, for example, is 22.214.171.124. Of course, if you wanted to access HowStuffWorks, you wouldn't type those numbers in. Because it's easier for us to remember a logical collection of letters rather than a jumble of numbers, we use the domain name -- a simple string of letters, what's known as a mnemonic device. The DNS translates the letters into the number-based IP address, and a connection is made.
The part of the address on the far right, such as the .com, is where your browsing requests go first -- it's what's called a top level domain (TLD). You're probably familiar with three of the most common: .com, .org and .net. There are, of course, a few more, such as .edu and .gov, but chances are you probably use the first three more often.
Early on during the Internet's first major explosion of commercial growth, a coalition called the Internet International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) formed with the intention of adding several more TLDs to the list. How much influence did the IAHC have over the Internet? What became of the organization's plan? To learn about the rise and fall of the Internet International Ad Hoc Committee, read on.
By 1996, concerns had risen over the extremely fast commercialization of the Internet -- it had only been since 1991 that commercial restrictions on the Web were lifted by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the number of computers on the Internet was doubling every three months.
In May 1996, many top level domains we still use today, such as .com and .org, were already in place. But Dr. Jon Postel, head of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), an organization that managed the allocation of IP addresses, suggested revising the domain name system to account for the Internet's tremendous growth. His initial proposal given in the month of May posed adding 50 entirely new TLDs into the mix. The plan drew a significant amount of criticism from the technical community, mostly because the plan also allowed anyone the right to register names in as many as three of the new TLDs, potentially decreasing competition.
After a few revisions, with help from the Internet Society (ISOC) and a lot of further debate, the IANA and the ISOC organized the Internet International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) in September 1996 to figure out the domain name problem. The IAHC was essentially a large coalition -- a temporary alliance brought together to focus on one issue -- made up of the several organizations. Along with the IAHA and the ISOC, the IAHC also included the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and International Trademark Association (INTA).
In December 1996, the IAHC issued a draft of a report, which outlined its ideas for what it argued was a smoother, more organized domain name system. In the report's final version, released in February 1997, the IAHC addressed an inconsistency with the definition and nature of certain top level domain terms. At the time of the report, TLDs were generally divided into two classes. The first International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 3166 country codes, also commonly known as national TLDs (nTLD), included names such as .us, .fr, .ca and .au. International TLDs (iTLD), on the other hand, included nearly everything else, including .com, .org and .net.
The IAHC took issue with this, noting that the term "international" implied that the domain belonged to multiple national governments -- even though a TLD such as .com can be used by anyone across the globe, that doesn't mean the owner of that .com is a multinational group.
The committee advised using the term generic top level domain (gTLD) to describe something like a .com or a .org. Any applicant can use a gTLD without being required to operate on an international level to do so. Following this suggestion, the IAHC finally recommended seven new gTLDs; to read about them, see the next page.
Internet International Ad Hoc Committee's New gTLDs
The International Ad Hoc Committee specifically noted that .com, .org and .net were the only three gTLDs existing at the time of the report's writing in February 1997. According to IAHC definitions, .com was set aside "for businesses or firms of a commercial nature," .org "for not-for-profit entities," and .net "for entities emphasizing data networking activities, especially with respect to the Internet." The report proposed a potential Generic Top Level Domain Memorandum of Understanding (gTLD-MoU), which would establish the seven new gTLDs. They included:
.firm - for businesses, or firms
.store - for businesses offering goods to purchase
.web - for entities emphasizing activities related to the World Wide Web
.arts - for entities emphasizing cultural and entertainment activities
.rec - for entities emphasizing recreation/entertainment activities
.info - for entities providing information services
.nom - for those wishing individual or personal nomenclature
The report also called for the formation of a large group of global registries, all under the supervision of a Council of Registrars (CORE), to oversee any new registries for the proposed gTLDs.
Although the IAHC gained some support, the report was mainly criticized for several reasons. The tech community saw the report's schedule for technology development and implementation, which called for a timeline of about 100 days, as too strict and condensed. Others felt it ignored business issues and failed to resolve the competitive problems it was attempting to address; the introduction of the .firm and .store domains, alongside the established .com, may have felt a little redundant. Because of a lack of unity regarding the suggestions from the IAHC, the committee dissolved soon after the release of the report, although many incarnations of its ideas were transferred to later successful proposals. The .info domain, for instance, later introduced by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), remains one of the more successful domain names.
For lots more information on the ever-changing state of the Internet, see the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- How did the Internet start?
- How Internet Infrastructure Works
- How Domain Name Servers Work
- How Web Servers Work
- What is an IP address?
- How E-mail Works
- What is the Internet Tax Freedom Act?
- Where are Internet domain names registered and maintained?
- What are the standard top-level domain names and who controls them?
More Great Links
- Arnold, Bruce. "ICANN profile: History." Calson Analytics. January 2003. (July 28, 2008) http://www.caslon.com.au/icannprofile1.htm
- CircleID. "ICANN board approves sweeping overhaul of top-level domains." June 26, 2008. (July 25, 2008) http://www.circleid.com/posts/86269_icann_approves_overhaul_top_level_domains/
- Cybertelecom Federal Internet Law & Policy. "Derived from: Management of Internet Names and Addresses. (White Paper), Department of Congress (June 5, 1998)." History of DNS. (July 28, 2008) http://www.cybertelecom.org/dns/history.htm
- International Ad Hoc Committee. "Final Report of the International Ad Hoc Committee: Recommendations for Administration and Management of gTLDs." Feb. 4, 1997. http://www.gtld-mou.org/draft-iahc-recommend-00.html
- InterNIC. "The Domain Name System: a non-technical explanation -- why universal resolvability is important." Oct. 5, 2002. (Aug. 4, 2008) http://www.internic.net/faqs/authoritative-dns.html
- Weiss, Todd. "New .info domain name proves popular." Computer World. Nov. 18, 2002. (Aug. 5, 2008) http://www.computerworld.com/developmenttopics/websitemgmt/story/0,10801,76008,00.html