TCS Daily

Much Ado About Site Finder

By Jonathan Zuck - October 6, 2003 12:00 AM

The introduction of VeriSign's Site Finder service last month resulted in a chorus of criticism from some members of the Internet community. On Tuesday, October 7th the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet's primary regulatory body, will hold a hearing to decide the future of Site Finder. While this hearing is designed to review the Site Finder service, the debate that ensues has the potential to shape the future of Internet innovation.


Before Site Finder, if you mistyped an internet address, you probably received an error message saying "Error: 404. Page not found." It would be up to you to reach for your dictionary and correct your mistake. With Site Finder, your error leads not to a dead end, but to a search page that suggests sites that you may have meant. Think of it as an automatic "Did you mean?" For the vast majority of Internet users, this is a great new feature that makes web surfing a better experience. For me, it may cut back on the calls from my parents when they confuse the error 550 or 404 message with their computer breaking.


Despite the undeniable benefits of this service, a few members of the Internet community have protested loudly. By the way they are reacting, you'd think the people at VeriSign were standing with the power cord to the Internet in their hand getting ready to unplug it.


Generally, the complaints can be put into two categories. Some point to technical issues that emerged and suggest that VeriSign has "broken the Internet." Others, including the regulators at ICANN, have argued that VeriSign has overstepped its authority.


As anyone who has used it over the past few weeks can attest, the Internet is not broken. Minor glitches emerged with spam filtering and a few other services, but patches were written and distributed within hours of the Site Finder going live.


Could VeriSign have done a better job of testing before roll out? Perhaps. However, the technical issues created have been relatively minor and VeriSign has worked hard to respond quickly to feedback from customers and the Internet community. VeriSign has even formed an expert technical panel to address any existing and future concerns about the service.


The question of whether VeriSign may have entered into gray areas of its contract with ICANN is more complicated, but less important than whether this service represents positive innovation. An organization under constant criticism, ICANN has often been attacked for the glacial pace at which it moves on all its decisions. Very little innovation has occurred on the infrastructure of the Internet in the past 25 years, and ICANN has slowed the pace of innovation even further in recent years.


While some have argued that VeriSign should have gone to ICANN before launching Site Finder, I for one am glad they did not. Given its track record, it's likely ICANN would have sat on this technology for years. ICANN can sometimes act like the lawyer who tells you no, instead of showing you how you can actually achieve something with a little work. Perhaps it should be renamed "ICANN'T."


The most important issue in the Site Finder debate is whether innovation can take place on the Internet infrastructure. While ICANN should consider the complaints of the naysayers, it must balance them against the need for innovation and growth of the Internet infrastructure. As the stewards of the modern Internet, it is imperative that ICANN use regulation not to stifle but promote innovation of this critical world asset.


Jonathan Zuck is the president of the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) with more than 15 years of experience as a professional software developer and IT executive.


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