It's Not Too Late to Save the Internet
The vision, mission, and strategy for Namebase
The past few weeks at Namebase we’ve been working on articulating our vision and mission. Doing this provides many benefits, but the number one benefit is that it clarifies why the company even exists in the first place. When we ask ourselves why we’re working on Namebase and how the opportunity cost is worth it, the vision and mission provides the answer. Our hope in sharing this publicly is that it will help you understand what we’re about, and perhaps even convince you to join ourselves, Fred Ehrsam, A16Z, and many others in supporting this mission as well.
Our mission boils down to a desire for a better Internet. The Internet has become the backbone of society. At its inception the Internet was open and global, but today that is no longer the case. All the recent events affecting the Internet show a trend of the Internet becoming worse over time, and it’s clear that the Internet 10 years from now will be less open, less free, less secure, and less private. However, there is still hope. Technological developments in the past decade have created an opportunity to reverse the trend such that the Internet 10 years from now is more open, free, secure, and private.
DNS is one of the oldest components of Internet architecture. It was invented nearly 40 years ago in 1983 and hasn’t changed much since to address threats to freedom and safety on the Internet.
At the top of the DNS hierarchy is the root zone which is managed by the ICANN. ICANN determines who gets what TLD. Who in this case means governments, non-profits, and for-profit corporations like Verisign which owns .COM. TLD owners get to issue second-level domains like google.com.
Even though DNS is infrastructure that the entire world relies on, only a few organizations at the top of the hierarchy control it. The centralized nature of DNS makes it trivial for governments and institutions to censor and seize domain names. Turkish citizens are blocked from the encrypted email provider ProtonMail. Iran recently censored Facebook and Twitter before shutting off their Internet entirely. The services blocked in China are legion, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
When domain owners register a domain name from a TLD owner, they can’t truly own the name. They can only rent it. Domain owners can have their domains seized at any time, and don’t have an easy way to register domains anonymously. In the US, registrants have to submit WHOIS information, and in China, they need to complete real name verification. This makes it difficult for people to create politically sensitive websites without compromising their safety.
Malicious actors spy on and tamper with end-users browsing activity. DNS providers, including ISPs, collect and sell end-user data to advertisers. As a workaround, people resort to VPNs and centralized resolvers like Cloudflare’s 184.108.40.206 which can be shut down at any time (and still require trusting the resolvers themselves).
This is the state of Internet today, but the problem is only getting worse. The Internet was once thought of a global network that everyone could access, but the Internet is increasingly becoming siloed. Countries like Russia and China have created extensive censorship infrastructure, and other countries are following their lead. It’s not just authoritarian governments that are the problem. Susam Pal recently had his domain name of twelve years seized from him when an outside organization accidentally flagged his domain name in their security operation. ICANN recently tried to sell .ORG to a private equity firm soon after removing price caps on .ORG domains. If you project out from today, it’s clear that the Internet a decade from now will be less open, less free, less private, and less secure. It will be owned by organizations and governments, not the people.
Blockchain is fundamentally a technology for mass empowerment. Bitcoin gives you money without masters. Handshake allows anyone to own a domain name that is resistant to censorship and seizure, without revealing their identity. Others (i.e. Siacoin, Filecoin, IPFS) are working on separate layers of the stack, but naming is the first layer that must be decentralized in order to build a better Internet. These protocols will work together such that end-users will be able to reliably visit websites without being blocked at any layer, and domain owners will truly own their own domain names — by controlling their private key they will be able to register domain names privately with confidence that their name can’t be censored, seized, or tampered with. Handshake will create a naming system that the Internet can rely on, without gatekeepers or overseers getting in people’s way.
Once this vision is realized, it won’t just be internet infrastructure that has changed. Internet users will change as well. The organizations at the top of the DNS hierarchy will have been disintermediated and individuals will control their own fate on the Internet. We suspect that once people have a taste of this ownership, they will never let it go.
Our mission is to enable the vision described above. Specifically, the mission of Namebase is to enable freedom and safety on the Internet.
The mission of Namebase is to enable freedom and safety on the Internet.
We will do this by making it really easy for anyone around the world to own, manage, and access a Handshake domain. Websites and content on Handshake domains cannot be taken down by anyone other than the owner. DNS settings are saved on-chain making them impossible to hack, and anyone around the world with an internet connection can access these domains. If we execute effectively along this mission, then we can be confident that we’ll have changed the Internet for the better.
Our strategy for accomplishing this mission is centered around enabling access to Handshake and supporting Handshake adoption.
Empower every type of user to use Handshake
Handshake provides different value props for different user bases. Domain owners will register Handshake names and end-users will resolve them. Many crypto enthusiasts will support Handshake for ideological reasons, and speculators will speculate on both Handshake coins (HNS) and domain names. Everyone plays an important role in the Handshake ecosystem, and we will navigate regulatory hurdles so that we can serve all user types, even users who wish to remain anonymous. We will also utilize technology like multisig wallets (in addition to Handshake itself) to protect our customers from bad actors, governments, and even ourselves.
Make it easier to use Handshake domains than traditional domains
Our domain registrar and HNS onramp enables anyone to start using Handshake with near-zero friction. I’m confident that our crypto onboarding experience at launch will be unrivaled in the space. Past launch, we will continue simplifying the onboarding and domain registration experience such that friction trends to zero over time, surpassing even the traditional domain registration experience because we don’t need to deal with legacy infrastructure from the existing system.
Even though it’s 2020, the secondary market for traditional domain names is still slow and manual. Secondary sales are fragmented and transfers can take up to a month to complete in escrow. Handshake provides an opportunity to change that by avoiding the existing infrastructure. Namebase will change the way domains are bought and sold with an open marketplace that transfers domain names immediately on-chain.
Support Handshake adoption amongst all stakeholders
Handshake is still in its earliest stages, so it’s important for all ecosystem participants to support adoption. We will support Handshake on marketing and community growth. We will also work on integration efforts with browsers and other relevant projects (i.e. Pi-hole) to bring Handshake to even more users. If you’re interested in joining forces on these efforts, reach out to us and help us enable freedom and safety on the Internet!