How to take down the Internet from the inside

ICANN appears to be well on its way to destroying the Internet, judging by its current domain name games

Breaking news: The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is holding a domain name raffle. Can an IP address bake sale be far behind?

ICANN opened up an enormous can of worms a few years back when it decided the world desperately needed more top-level domains, despite the fact that most of the 22 TLDs and 248 country-code top-level domains now available go largely unused. More than half of all URLs still end in .com, and another 25 percent use a ccTLD like .us or .cn. Newer domains like .aero, .museum, or .travel don't even register on the surveys.

[ Also on InfoWorld: See what other dastardly doings ICANN has been up to in "Internet corporation foiled in plot to take down Internet." | For a humorous take on tech industry shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

But no matter. In true Oprah "everybody gets a car" fashion, ICANN decided that anybody who wants to start up a new top-level domain can have one, provided a) they fork over $185,000 per domain as an application fee, and b) ICANN gets to play final arbiter as to who gets to own which domain.

The process has been bungled at virtually every opportunity, and the buffoonery shows no sign of abating. Imagine if your local DMV was staffed by the cast from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." That's ICANN. If it were a limo, it would be a clown car. If it were a cookie, it would be Nutter Butter.

ICANN received nearly 2,000 requests from 1,100 companies that wanted their own corner of the InterWebs, generating more than $350 million in fees. Now that's a tidy little business model. Coincidentally, ICANN's board of directors is made up largely of domain registrars, who stand to profit quite handsomely from the cover-your-assets land rush that will happen when deep-pocketed companies like Disney and Apple buy up all that new Internet real estate to protect their brands.

But this rush of popularity brought a new problem for ICANN, since it now had to comb through every application to determine if a domain met its standards (whatever they are) and which of the competing parties got to own the most popular ones. For example, both Google and Amazon want to own .cloud, and 11 domain registrars are vying over who has the right to sell domains ending in .inc. Who gets to decide? You guessed it: ICANN.

After the dust had settled (and the checks had cleared), ICANN suddenly realized it couldn't actually process 2,000 applications in a timely fashion. So last June it set up a "digital archery" contest to determine which applications would be considered first.

No, it wasn't one of those spammy banner ads that ask you to shoot a flying duck with your mouse to enter a drawing for an iPad. That might have actually made some sense. In ICANN's scheme, applicants had to name a day and time they wanted their application to be considered, then log into ICANN's system at exactly that moment. The difference between the time they asked for and the time they logged in would determine when their applications got processed. The first 500 to come closest to their target would be processed first, then the next 500, and so on.

No, seriously, I'm not making that up.

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