The Tragedy of the Commons and naming systems.

You may or may not have heard that ICANN (the company that is responsible for naming and numbering things on the internet) opened up the ability to create new commercial top level domains (TLDs). The gist is that for $185,000USD, you, too could have your very own top level domain, and thus you could register a domain name of web.yourcompany or something like that.

It was assumed that things like .google, .microsoft, and .amazon would be taken up in short order, but we really should have foreseen the eventual outcome, which is generic words being purchased for companies’ private use.

You can see the full list, but it’s essentially a land grab for common words. The article that I linked to mentions that Google wants .blog, but fails to mention the other eight companies applying for that domain, too.

You can check out the most commonly requested TLDs here:

lynx –width 256 –dump | grep ” – ” | awk ‘{print $1}’ | sort | uniq -c | sort -g | tail -n 10
10 ART
11 INC
13 APP

It reminds me of the parable of the Tragedy of the Commons. The idea being that a shared space that’s uncontrolled ends up being taken advantage of by people selfish or shortsighted enough to not consider what is best for the group in its entirety.

I see this a lot in things where people need to choose a name and there’s no structured way to make that decision. Wikis come to mind.

I’ve had several discussions with users who would make new entries in the internal wiki, but the names they chose were vastly overreaching. If you’re working on a project for a client’s portfolio, you don’t name the document “portfolio” if you’re in a flat namespace. That should be common sense, but I’ve found too many people that don’t think that far ahead.

Having a centralized authority that can manage things like this helps a lot. I’m certain that without something like PAUSE and the associated people who deal with submissions, Perl’s CPAN would be an unusable mess, as opposed to its current status as a usable mess. Usually.

So please, going forward, take some time to consider the proper naming convention and domain for your various projects, and encourage others to do the same.

  • To borrow from you, this just seems like a Bad Idea (TM).