An Open Letter to ICANN

by Heather Stern

Around the time I originally picked up my domain, Jim Dennis and I were both working in the corporate world, but had useful things we could do with a domain of our own, such as provide privacy for our mail in regards to personal interests, as well as put up some helpful information on a web site.

As we know, since The Dawn of Time, .edu has been strictly enforced, so even though it was mostly handing out and pointing to free clues, .edu never even crossed our mind. We certainly weren't .gov or .mil; we weren't an international anything (didn't even have my passport back then). At that time also it was big social gaffe in our crowd (the kind of people who've been USENIX members a while; I'm sure you're familiar with them, but see if you need a refresher) to be a .net if you weren't among the bandwidth maintainers, and rather frowned on to be a .com if you weren't an honest-to-God commercial entity. Definitely pre-buzzword...the tide has since turned the other way. Regional domains, while available, aren't well suited for people that move or endeavors that aren't related to a region. So .org was the right place for us to be.

In the time since then, we've become consultants (well, sometimes it's been him, sometimes me consulting) and can't reasonably be a non-profit or, at least, it would be even more work on our poor accountant. Yet, much more than half the work I do is for nonprofit organizations or completely volunteer work. My work is closer to the spirit of nonprofit work. Nonprofit status exists to protect, although many officially nonprofit organizations, especially some that have become well known, have had to introduce corporate levels of bureaucracy to try and keep a handle on things.

I fully expect that the world will change, buzzwords will change and the kinds of work I do will tend to remain what they are. I've never been the kind of person who fits pigeonholes very well. My life bears a mix of low-end commercial services and non-profit volunteerism, as well as general time spent on computing, and is not possible to divide easily at all, much less along the lines the Internet presently follows.

Someone else has my matching .com; there's a "Starshine Software" that isn't either of us, anyway. I've gotten my share of postmaster mail over the years looking for other companies whose name includes the word "Starshine" and offered subhost space to a nonprofit group that asked about it (they declined that offer, but didn't say what they did instead, so I couldn't improve their efforts by pointing to them, sigh). Yet an entirely different group has my matching .net--it used to be a really nice pagan site, years ago, but lately appears to be a bunch of domain scammers. From the point of view of "internet infrastructure" they probably feel quite entitled. My opinion of domain scamming isn't very polite, and I consider any plans to jockey around the purposes of the original seven TLDs to be in the sumphole with them.

Anyways, my address and my site name have been published monthly in the hotly mirrored Linux Gazette since (pardon me while I check issue 28, May 1998. Jim Dennis, the world famous Answer Guy, has been listed there even longer. Anybody who tries to take after me is going to feel like a damn fool unless they know a LOT about Linux.

My subdomains are a mix of web-staging sites for the nonprofits and other clients I work with. One of them is a subhosted site, my local chapter for an international non-profit. I'm pretty sure my claim to .org is a good one even though I'm not likely to be a nonprofit *myself* nor qualify for one anytime soon.

Thanks to the kind of community I work with, I know a lot of people who won't fit in your "enforced .org" pigeonhole very well either.

Still, enough about me. I'm sure that if you insist on this stupidity, eventually someone would be annoyed enough to just wave a magic wand over some paperwork of their own, and ta da! would be "an exception". Creating a design that requires exceptions regularly in order to handle the real world is seriously flawed at its inception.

Enforcing .org is really not the right answer at all.

There are thousands of nonprofits in the world. There are many, many countries. By far the lion's share of these non-profits are not computer related. For the smaller ones especially, they likely have local chapters or volunteer groups. It is hard enough to get such volunteers and maintain their enthusiasm in fighting whatever good fight they are in. Adding the work for them to add extra DNS hierarchy and add paperwork to their life about it when establishing their sites is really a Bad Idea, in brightly lit neon letters. Consider, please, that most of these helpful organizations aren't about computers, they're about starving people, defeating diseases or something like that.

I can't imagine that such a high-minded nonprofit would take any pleasure in knowing that they had evicted some previous owner "because we're a nonprofit and you're a mere home user". If they do, they probably shouldn't enjoy the camera's eye when the press takes a look at that attitude of theirs.

Perhaps you want to establish a new .non domain rather than breaking a TLD that exists, so that .non can be enforced in the way you describe. That way such nonprofit organizations who would benefit by any enforcement have an entire realm of their own to sign up in, with its own clean slate. Some entity would have to volunteer the resources to host, maintain and manage such are non-computing related nonprofits going to have any belief they can trust these people, anyway?

Politics, politics.

There was no .geek nor .nerd domain when I established a web site, and I refuse to move just because you want to put an Information Stupor-hypeway through my neighborhood. Take your urban renewal program somewhere else.

Heather Stern ( is presently the Technical Editor for Linux Gazette, a monthly on-line magazine hosted at, and deeply involved in the Linux community of the Silicon Valley area. She accepts a limited number of consulting clients and enjoys her work immensely.

Load Disqus comments