Last week Ben Edelman released his report on typo-squatting  (for example the registration of in order, imho, to divert traffic intended for, to a porno site).

Today’s ICANNWatch and Friday’s Copyfight linked to a paper from Seth Finkelstein, describing a program for “fuzzy-searching” of domain names, somewhat remiscent of Google’s “Did you mean . . . ” spell-checker. 

Can “fuzzy” functionality be added to a browser?  What if typing into an address bar led to at least a portion of the screen saying “Did you mean to access” (with perhaps additional descriptive info).

Why can’t an address bar in a browser have increased functionality – for example can common names replace urls in the address bar?  Alternately, can a common name system replace an address bar?  A good common name system would allow Joe’s Pizza in Armonk to coexist with Joe’s Pizza  in Thornwood.

This leads me to one of my pet obsessions: “Brand As Navigator”  by which I mean improving the experience of the consumer (and brand owner) in matching a request for a brand with an authorized source of the brand.  We are not talking about policing measures such as better UDRPs or better “sunrise periods” for new TLDs, but by the development and deployment of better navigational systems on the Internet.

My thinking starts with several propositions:

1.  The domain name system is an addressing system, not a directory.

2.  Users misuse the DNS as a directory when they use the address bar of a browser to guess a domain name.

3.  Trademark owners, domain name speculators, ICANN, registrars and TLD registries all institutionalized this misuse in their own ways.

4.  Development of good navigational systems may have been stunted by the diversion of resources into the domain name system (note the use of “may have”).

5. The magnitude of trademark infringement, trademark dilution, cyber-squatting, typo-squatting,  and mere consumer confusion, has likely been increased by the absence of better navigational systems and the emphasis on domain names.

6.  Small business owners are hurt the most, in my opinion, by the absence of good navigational systems – Joe’s Pizza for example.  See here.

The trademark lobby, in its relationship with the DNS, has taken primarily a reactive role, namely advocating methods to control the daunting amount of infringing behavior (disclosure – as a former member of INTA’s Internet committee, and as a current member of the IPC of ICANN, I’ll take blame on that point). 

What we have not seen from the trademark lobby, nor, to the best of my knowledge, from the business constituency of ICANN, is a push towards the creation of new navigational systems which would allow the user to utilize brand names and business names as navigational systems – without the (in my view) unacceptable level of external costs with which the DNS currently burdens brand owners.

RealNames (regardless of your views on whether it was good or bad), was at least an attempt at solving the problem.  I personally don’t think that the underlying technology of a global navigational system should be proprietary, and RealNames’ demise removed the threat of someone “cornering” name navigation for now.  However, Microsoft (RealName’s major investor), reportedly has shown broad interest in the technology.

This to me suggests that the time has come for a discussion between, among other concerned parties, ICANN and its constituencies, the IETF, and the W3C to look at the next generation of navigational systems.  To be sure, there are various initiatives in the broad area, such as the Common Name Resolution Protocol.  My worry is that these protocols are being developed without input from brand owners (see parapgraph 8 in this RFC).  I hope that changes.  At this stage of the process, making sure that the person typing in DELTA gets the DELTA they want (and not an unrelated DELTA or an infringer), is a usability enhancement issue, not a legal issue.