The Domain Name System – which much of the internet is built on – is a system of servers which turn friendly names humans understand ( into IP addresses which computers understand (111.222.333.444).

It is hierarchical and to a large extent centralised. You will be the master of *, but you have to buy off the .com registrar.

These top level domain registrars, if not owned by national governments, are at least strongly influenced and increasingly regulated by them.

This of course makes these registrars a tempting target for oppressive governments like China, UK and the USA, and for insane laws like SOPA and the Digital Economy Act which seek to control information, and shut down sites which say things the government doesn’t like.

Replacing this system with a less centralised model is therefore a high priority for anyone wanting to ensure the protection of the free internet.

Turning text into numbers isn’t the real problem

It may not be an entirely new observation here; the problem of turning a bit of text into a set of numbers is, from a user’s perspective, not what they’re after. They want to view facebook, or a photo album on flickr.

So finding relevant information is what we’re really trying to solve, and the entire DNS system is really just a factor of search not being good enough when the system was designed.


  • Virtually all modern browsers have auto complete search as you type query bars.
  • Browsers like Chrome only have a search bar
  • My mum types domain names, or partial domain names, or something like the domain name (depending on recollection) into Google

For most cases, using the web has become synonymous with search.

Baked in search

So, what if search was baked in? Could this be done, and what would the web look like if it was?

What you’re really asking when you visit Facebook, or Amazon or any other site is “find me this thing called xxxx on the web”.

Similarly when a browser tries to load an image, what it’s really saying is “load me this resource called yyyy which is hosted on web server xxxx on the web”, which is really a specialisation of the previous query.

You’d need to have searches done in some sort of peer to peer way, and distributed using an open protocol, since you’d not want to have to search the entire web every time you looked for something. Neither would you want to maintain a local copy of the Entire World.

It’d probably eat a lot of bandwidth, and until computers and networks get fast enough, you’d probably still have to rely on having large search entities (google etc) do most of the donkey work, so this may not be something we can really do right now.

But consider, most of us now have computers in our pockets with more processing power than existed on the entire planet a few decades ago; at the beginning of the last century the speed of a communication network was limited by how fast a manual operator could open and close a circuit relay.

What will future networks (and personally I don’t think we’re that far off) be capable of? Discuss.

Yesterday there was a little bit of excitement in the digital rights world caused by an amendment to the Digital Economy bill proposed by a Tory and Liberal peer.

The justification of the amendment does make some good points – particularly about bringing any action under the control of the courts rather than just requiring the secretary of state’s say so.

As Lord Clement-Jones points out, the de-politicising of the process is important.

None of this matters of course, because the writing is on the wall for the rights industry. Unfortunately for us its clear they’re going to make a fight of it, which will likely leave us saddled with some very damaging and poorly written laws which will make it increasingly difficult to run a UK based buisiness.

The only thing that is left is to learn from the mistakes they made. Here are some harsh truths…

If your business model relies on digital things being hard to copy, it’s doomed.

The key issue here is one of basic economics. When it is just as easy to make a million copies of something than it is to make one, then the supply of that resource essentially becomes infinite and the unit price of the resource that the market is prepared to support drops to zero.

I’m not making any moral commentary here, but when something is no longer scarce it will be seen as free by the majority of people. Technical and legal restrictions put in place in an attempt to introduce scarcity artificially are going to be resented and are doomed to fail.

Theft is a meaningless concept in such a context, because how can you steal something which is infinitely available?

The only way to handle this situation is to innovate and add value somewhere else – people are still willing to pay for quality, novelty and convenience for example.

The black market is still the market.

Worse still, it is much more competitive (thanks to its lack of regulation) and responsive to consumer demand.

Lets look at Russia as an example:

In Russia, outside of the major cities, it is actually impossible to buy a legal copy of a CD or DVD – due in part to Russia’s perceived reputation on piracy creating an unwillingness for rights holders to provide their product there. There is still the demand of course, which the black market has stepped in to fill, and as a result you can go into a store on the high street and buy pirated CDs, DVDs and software just as you would buy legal copies here.

Not only does the black market provide a product where the traditional market refuses to, it actually provides a better product.

You can buy box set DVDs of films and TV series where none are normally available, entire back catalogues of an artist on a single CD in MP3 format, multiple DVD quality films on a Blueray disk and more.

Worse still for the rights holders, the price point is competitive enough to make it more attractive than downloading and certainly more attractive than importing a legal version, even after you factor in the relative earning power of the average Russian consumer.

This is similar to the current online situation – if I want to watch Caprica for example, I can either wait and hope it becomes available on DVD or shown on TV some time in the future, or I can watch it on channel Bittorrent. There is no legal way for me to get access.

Even when legal online access is provided, it’s product is often substandard when compared to the pirated version – low quality, DRM locked or with a built in expiry date. It is also, in many cases, harder to get hold of – requiring special software, registration and only offer a limited selection of products.

Which brings us to the real rub…

If the customer’s path of least resistance is not the one that gives you money, your business model is doomed.

Human nature is to follow the path of least resistance and this is something you’re not going to change, ignore this at your peril!

Do I click a button and have access to the latest episode of my favourite show in a few minutes? Or do I wait – perhaps forever – for it to be available on TV or in the stores?

Do I buy and re-buy a DRM locked version of my music for each device I own, or do I bittorrent a pirated version which will always work?

Do I go out in the rain to stand in a crowded store in order to get a single album, or do I bittorrent an artist’s entire back catalogue?

When I like some of my friends music, do I write down the name and go to the store, or do I give my friend a pen drive and get a copy right there?

Until a simple and convenient way to provide access to an equivalent or better quality product legally is available, the pirated version will always win.

So in conclusion..

As I said before I’m not making a moral statement here, and I am not calling for copyright to be abolished. Neither am I necessarily stating what should come next.

What I will say is that the current problems besetting the creative industry are not to do with the industry itself – people will always listen to music, watch films, use software and view great works of art – it is a problem with the current business models being used, combined with a lack of will to innovate.

The often bizarre legislation put forward as a solution all seem to be trying to retain the intellectual property status quo, but that isn’t to say that the concept of copyright is flawed – copyright is still a useful tool once certain realities are realised.

We should be encouraging business to embrace the new landscape and innovate, because while people are still wanting to listen to music, watch films and use software, there is still money to be made.

However, no amount of legislation will prop up a failing business model indefinitely, no matter what lobbyists will have you believe – just ask the French button makers. In a free market, business models are not something society or government should be in the business of protecting and they should be permitted to fail.

This is not the first time a technical innovation has rendered an entrenched business obsolete, and I’m sure it will not be the last.