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When is an abomination a service?


By Scott Bradner


Under almost universal condemnation from the Internet technical community and with the immediate prospect of ICANN filing suit against them, VeriSign, on October 4th, undid the change to the domain name database that it had installed two weeks earlier.  (INSERT POINTER TO 29 OCT COLUMN)   They whined about unfair treatment when they said they would "temporarily" make the change and tried to paint that VeriSign is a victim. At the same time almost all of the press seemed to support VeriSign instead of recognizing that an attempted coup d'etat had been (at least temporarily) thwarted.


A VeriSign spokesman was quoted in the press as saying "Without so much as a hearing, ICANN today formally asked us to shut down the Site Finder service"  and a VeriSign technical person said in a posting to the nanog mailing list ( "We requested an extension from ICANN to give more notice to the community but were denied."  VeriSign must think that everyone in the world has really bad short-term memories.  ICANN gave VeriSign about 48 hours to reverse their changes, which is infinitely more than the zero notice that VeriSign gave the Internet when they made the original changes.  Poor VeriSign, they did not get a hearing -- that mirrors the hearing VeriSign did not give anyone else when they created the mess in the first place.  In spite of its whining, VeriSign is the perpetrator here, it is no victim - we were the victims.


It was very disappointing to see that almost all press coverage of VeriSign withdrawing the changes spoke of VeriSign suspending a "service."  That includes this publication.  The dictionary has a number of definitions for the word "service." The closest definition in Merriam Webster might be "a facility supplying some public demand" except that the "public demand" was all in VeriSign's imagination.  VeriSign's web page touts the number of visits to the "Site Finder" web page - 65 million in a week or so - but that just represents the number of bad typists in the world not the number of people that wanted to go there.  The intended beneficiary of the VeriSign "service" was VeriSign's bank account. 


By using VersiSign's term, the press implied that what VersiSign had been doing was a positive thing, something that provided a real service to the Internet community.  This ignores all of Internet functions that were broken when VeriSign made their changes.  What would have made the press actually think about what they were writing?  Take the case of a garage owner who spread tacks on a highway so he could get more business supplying new tires to drivers who manage to find his tacks in their tires.  Surely the press would not have said that he was supplying a service to the drivers even if he called it a service.  They would have said that it was vandalism.  What VeriSign did was Internet vandalism .  It is sad that much of the press implied otherwise.


disclaimer:  <ITAL>Most</ITAL> people think Harvard provides a service but the above opinion on services is mine not the University's.