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Tech Industry

Innovation and the Internet

VeriSign's Mark McLaughlin says the company?s Site Finder service fell victim to critics who used the banner of technology purity to hold back the Internet.

    VeriSign's decision to launch a new Site Finder service that gives Internet users tools and options when they mistype a domain name has spurred a debate about the future of the Internet. It is a debate worth having, because at the heart of it is whether innovation on the Internet will be encouraged or whether the status quo is good enough. More than 20 million times a day, Internet users receive an error message when they mistype a domain name (such as typing in orangd.com when they meant orange.com). That error page can lead to a dead end, with no options on how to get to where you tried to go.

    That's what Site Finder is about. Instead of getting an error page, its users get an option to search the Internet, try a similar name or search popular categories. Thus far, people have used these tools more than 40 million times to get where they want to go.

    While similar services have been tested and offered before, VeriSign's Site Finder has triggered debate because it hasn't been

    ICANN appears to have bought into claims that the Internet has broken or will break.
    tried for .com and .net domain names. Seemingly ignoring that fact, ICANN cast a vote last week for the status quo by forcing VeriSign to shut down the service. We reluctantly agreed and are exploring our options.

    ICANN appears to have bought into claims that the Internet has broken or will break. Anyone who has used it in the last three weeks knows that claim to be false. More likely, ICANN caved under the pressure from some in the Internet community for whom this is a technology-religion issue about whether the Internet should be used for these purposes.

    For this vocal minority, resentment lingers at the very fact that the Internet is used for commercial purpose, which ignores the fact that it's a critical part of our economy.

    We respectfully disagree with those who, in the name of technology purity, strive to hold the Internet back. The Internet as we know it today was built by expanding beyond the original intent. When ARPAnet--the first multisite computer network--was launched in 1969, its purpose was to link research centers around the world.

    Over the next three decades, every stage of what we now know as the Internet caused fierce debate and controversy. By not being afraid to test and try new things, a network was created that now serves as the foundation for commerce and communications.

    While the current debate is not the first over the future of the Internet, it is critically important because it could well determine its future development. The Internet has been used for many innovative purposes over the last decade--look at what eBay and Amazon have been able to accomplish--but the reality is the Internet itself, the infrastructure that serves as the foundation, has not significantly benefited from innovation.

    For this vocal minority, resentment lingers at the very fact that the Internet is used for commercial purpose, which ignores the fact that it's a critical part of our economy.
    This is a significant test for the entire community because if the community can't find a way to introduce new services while reaching a resolution on technical matters that might arise, then the Internet infrastructure will never improve. It's tantamount to saying that the Internet world is flat and therefore there is no need for further exploration.

    If that is the case, it doesn't bode well for the Internet. If operators and businesses are discouraged from exploring the bounds of the Internet, it will mean less research and development and less investment into the network infrastructure. In short, a weaker Internet.

    That should concern the technical community, Internet users, businesses and policy-makers alike. Less investment means a less-stable Internet long-term, with a degraded performance for its users and businesses that rely on it every day for communications and commerce.

    We have seen firsthand what investment in these networks means. Nearly a year ago, the root servers that serve as the foundation of the Internet came under intense computer attack. VeriSign's two root servers withstood the attack, in large part because we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to fortify them and have hired the very best people to run them.

    The decisions made over the next year about Internet innovation will influence the depth by which Internet operators are encouraged to continue to invest in these networks. It would be a sad irony that if in the interest of the status quo we stifle innovation, because in the end all that will lead to is less investment in these important networks.

    The decisions made over the next months and years will determine the future growth and vitality of the Internet. Hopefully we will be ambitious explorers of the Internet's potential.