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Sparks fly at blockchain domain panel during NamesCon

Rival protocols argue over name collisions.

Picture of two boxers with the words "blockchain domain fight"

A panel about blockchain domain names at NamesCon today devolved into a fight between Handshake proponents and Unstoppable Domains founder Brad Kam.

Unstoppable Domains recently sued a technology provider that introduced second level .wallet domains based on the Handshake system. Unstoppable offers a competing .wallet extension in its own system.

The fireworks began during introductions, when Chris Jeffrey, co-founder of the Handshake protocol, attacked Kam for filing the lawsuit.

The majority of the panel was about name collisions and conflicts between the protocols. Here’s an example of the confrontation:

Thomas Barrett, co-founder of Encirca, which supports many competing blockchain domains, finishing a comment about what blockchain domains are about: …so web3 is all about consumers taking back control of their privacy and personal data. So that’s the use case, very different from Web2, which is really about businesses getting online and doing e-commerce.

Chjango U., dWeb Foundation: [interjecting] —and suing people to create their territory.

Brad Kam: Can we keep it high level? I think we’re focused on Unstoppable too much. Let’s talk about the industry.

Jeffrey: [interjecting] —No, no, this is, this is the most relevant thing to be talking about right now because…

Chjango U.: [interjecting] —It is a precedent setter.

Jeffrey: [continuing] …these decentralized naming protocols are susceptible to these kinds of attacks. Someone like you [referring to Kam] will use a legacy naming system, like the trademark office, to go after somebody building on these protocols. The good news is I think in the long run you guys lose. And I say this without any sense of irony or levity: [Unstoppable] is the enemy.
This is the person [Kam] that these decentralized naming protocols are meant to protect you from. And in the long run, they will die out.

The parties disagreed on whether more than one blockchain top level domain can coexist. Kam argued that they cannot and that “social convention” will play a big part in determining which blockchain domain should be able to exclude the others:

Kam: Imagine what would happen if I have brad.crypto and somebody else gets a brad.crypto over there. And then somebody trying to send me a million dollars sends it to the wrong person. That is a nonfunctioning system. So what’s going to wind up having to happen here is there’s going to be a…you can’t have more than one TLD functioning in the wild of the same TLD. Otherwise, apps just won’t support it. So what’s going to happen is apps will say, “Hey, this is dangerous to my users. I can’t…I gotta shut this down.” So that’s the reason why naming is actually a social convention, not just a technology. So you have technology plus social convention.

Ray King, founder of both a registrar that sells Handshake domains (Porkbun) and a company that sells ICANN-approved top level domains, but who took a neutral stance during the panel, asked who decides which competing protocol gets exclusive rights to a string. Kam answered:

Kam: It’s the same as it would be for any IP. So essentially what happens is you have first commercial use, you have market penetration…you have all the same reasons why you can’t launch McDonald’s restaurant is the same reason.

At this point, an audience member asked how you can ever prevent these sorts of collisions given the inherent characteristics of blockchain technology.

Audience question: I’m just curious how you can prevent collisions in this space because at the end of the day, blockchain domains are NFTs. And this is a problem with NFTs generally, which is there’s no authentication, right? So you can create a million NFTs for the same thing, whether it’s a painting or an image or anything else. And there’s no way to authenticate that, which is basically a foundational characteristic of decentralized systems.

Kam reiterated that he thinks it comes down to social convention.

Another audience member asked Kam what would happen in the next ICANN round if someone applied for a top level domain that matched one that Unstoppable Domains already operates. Kam responded:

Kam: I think this is a big question for the industry. Ultimately what I hope happens is that…it’s not really about ICANN so much, right. It is about the company that tries to buy that TLD from ICANN or buy the rights of that TLD from ICANN. And what I hope happens is that companies understand that, you know, TLDs that have developed and have gotten real track traction in the market, that they should not collide. And what’s essentially the problem that we have here is very similar to the problem we had when .com launched. There was no ICANN when .com launched. But what happened was there was a new technology platform that changed the internet and changed the world. And I believe that NFT domains have the same ability to change the world.

Kam is arguing that no one should apply for .crypto, .bitcoin, .nft, or any of the other domains Unstoppable launched when the new ICANN round opens.

I left the session thinking that there’s a reason the existing domain name system works so effectively: because it’s centralized. For all of the promise of decentralization, people want the benefits of centralized systems that work how they expect them to.

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Author: Andrew Allemann

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