The Web Is Unsustainable

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tl;dr: Useful and readable domain names are running out. They are not sustainable for the foreseeable future, let alone forever.

Ever had trouble finding a domain name? Already taken? Used? Squatted? Really expensive? Yeah, you are not alone. What people dont think about is that the first domain name was Symbolics.com bought in 1985, only 27 years ago. Think about that for a while... the Internet (including of course the World Wide Web and - more importantly for this discussion - Domain Name Systems) is one of the most important inventions of all time, yet we are having trouble coming up with names for new websites just 27 years later. The web is unsustainable in its current form.

Other inventions that have changed the world in the same way, such as the wheel, are timeless. You could quite easily imagine medicine and cars being around in a thousand years, though of course in different forms. Evolution is crucial in almost all fields, but in some it is easier than others.

How do you make the Web accessible forever? Or even for just another 27 years? It just is not sustainable. Even with theoretically infinite domain extensions, nobody likes when somebody else uses the same name as theirs. Many people own multiple extensions of the same name (such as ShaneHudson.net and ShaneHudson.co.uk), and almost all large companies have a very large portfolio of domains to secure their name.

On the other hand, ipv6 (and being a number based system, future versions are possible) will allow us to carry on without domain names, so if you dont mind users needing to use an ip address then there is no problem. But I doubt your users will be very happy!

So what can we do?

Well, no one really knows... otherwise it would be done already! I have a few ideas that might help provoke discussion, but really I am just writing this to get everybody thinking and realising that this is a major problem.

One train of thought I have had is that you get smaller independent companies in towns and villages that have very generalised names such as Harrys Fish and Chips or Hardware Shop; these are local brand names, which there are probably hundreds of worldwide. Locally though, everyone can find them by asking directions. That is just companies, when it comes to names of people they are certainly not unique! So perhaps we need to do something like that, have it so websites can have the same name but be part of different communities. Do I mean use sub domains? Maybe, but they often have negative connotations in respect to how professional or wealthy the website owner or company is.

That is one option, allowing people to own the domain names but also allow many websites to somehow have the same name (with the unique identifier being IP or similar).

Another possible idea stems from both bookmarking and the hosts file (which is basically a local DNS that the user can control by editing a file). The majority of people reading this will be able to easily edit the hosts file so that just typing Harrys Fish and Chips into the URI bar would make it go to a specific domain or IP. The general user does not know how to do this, and most advanced users do not bother. It is, however, one solution to making websites be accessible (in terms of navigating to them) while web browsers exist. So my second idea is to combine bookmarking and hosts (this could be built into the browser, a plugin or perhaps built into OS) so that users have a familiar, easy to use, graphical interface where they can bookmark a site (which could be a hard to remember domain extension or an IP address) and label it so they can easily get to it again by just going to the bookmark or typing the label into the URI bar.

I think that is enough from me, now it is time for you to voice your ideas on the subject.

To recap:

  • IP addresses can be used to access websites/servers and are numerical so hard to remember but new systems (such as ipv6) can extend the amount of possible addresses to near infinite amounts.
  • Domain names can have new extensions but no one likes other people creating websites of the same name but on a different extension. This is especially true for large companies.
  • I have come up with two ideas, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts and ideas of your own.

Idea 1 -

  • Local communities in the real world often have shops with very generic names.
  • We all have names that are not unique, even including our full names.
  • Perhaps we need a way to navigate to websites without requiring the use of a unique identifier such as domain names.

Idea 2 -

  • This builds on idea 1 while incorporating bookmarking and the hosts file.
  • Maybe we need a tool that allows bookmarks to be accessed by typing the label/title rather than the specific url or IP.

Again, I must urge you to step forward to give your ideas and thoughts on the subject. Please post in the comments below or on Hacker News, or tweet me @ShaneHudson.