Why Namecoin Didn't Take Off: A Cautionary Tale

Michael Dean is host of the Freedom Feens podcast, but more importantly, he was one of the earliest (and loudest) advocates of Namecoin as a decentralized DNS system.

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Why Namecoin Didn't Take Off: A Cautionary Tale

Michael Dean is host of the Freedom Feens podcast, but more importantly, he was one of the earliest (and loudest) advocates of Namecoin as a decentralized DNS system.

But according to Dean, Namecoin has not taken off as he'd hoped, nor will it ever.


Dean told CoinTelegraph where he thinks Namecoin went wrong, what developers of other crypto projects should learn from their mistakes, and his own idea of a decentralized DNS alternative.

Michael Dean

CoinTelegraph: You used to be one of Namecoin's biggest cheerleaders. What happened?

Michael Dean: So here's my opinion, which is really going to get me hated, but I think Namecoin as a decentralized DNS-type system is dead.

It's had nearly four years to catch on, and it has pretty much zero adoption. There are 100,000s of squatted domains, but only about 30 developed Dot-Bit sites. All of those are mirrors of Dot-Com or Dot-Net or Dot-Org sites (as they probably should be, to provide redundancy and protection against censorship), and about half of those 30 sites are mine.

There are probably less than 5,000 people in the world set up to actually view Dot-Bit sites, based on downloads of MeowBit and FreeSpeechMe. There was a lot of mining and trading of Namecoin, and a lot of squatting domains, but almost no building of domains or use of resolvers.

The problem is three-fold:

1. Namecoin wasn't easy enough to use. The wallet still sucks, and there were no resolvers or good tutorials until I got involved. And that was three years after Namecoin existed. If they'd had a great wallet, a good resolver, and good tutorials from day one, Dot-Bit domains could likely be universal by now.

The developers spent way too much time working on the nuance of perfecting each leaf in the forest (adding tons of minute functions most people wouldn't use) without seeing the overall picture of trees (usability to drive adoption).

“It's a pity, because these guys are all absolutely brilliant computer scientists, but they have zero idea how to spread something and get adoption.”

I hate to talk ill of those guys, they're really smart and really nice, but you really can't understand why Namecoin has not caught on without understanding what's going on with the Dev team.

2. Some of the Namecoin developers kind of lost track of the plot at some point. Once they were all broke (and isn't that maybe the market sending signals?) some of the team tried to partner Namecoin with Google and even ICANN. That makes no sense. That's making a technology to circumvent governments and then handing it over to governments.

3. Most people don't care. Despite censorship of the Web around the world, and the threat of more impending Web censorship in the US, most people would rather spend hours forwarding and discussing horror stories of censorship and impending doom than actually spending an hour making their own domain censorship-proof by setting up a Dot-Bit mirror URL and then promoting it.

“We saw with Bitcoin how having a system in the blockchain space is less about perfection than adoption for giving value to that system.”

I know there are still four or five Namecoin developers trying to perfect the system, but it's too little too late and Namecoin has flaws from the ground up. The biggest flaw is the clunky wallet that takes ten minutes to open. The other biggest flaw is that the near-zero expense of registering domains encouraged domain squatting. All the good names are taken. Someone registered every noun in the dictionary as Dot-Bit.

And these squatters didn't even do it right. When you go to any of these squatted domains, they don't go to a place holder with a page that says "to buy your site in Dot-Bit, email me here and make me an offer." The sites just don't resolve! These people are unclear on the semi-scummy concept of domain squatting. In Namecoin, even that gets done wrong!

Also, Dot-Bit is actually vulnerable to a hostile takeover from ICANN. If ICANN decided to support Dot-Bit and decide where things would resolve contrary to where the Namecoin wallet was resolving things, and corporate DNS servers sided with the ICANN (which they largely would), it would create consumer confidence chaos with the Namecoin system.

CT: What do you see as the future of decentralized domains?

MD: There are a few Bitcoin 2.0-type blockchain projects that are attempting to solve the problem of making usable, adoptable decentralized domains, including dealing with the squatter problem.

But I've examined their methodologies closely, and I do not think they're going to get wide acceptance. Too complex for people to want to use them, and/or not truly decentralized, at least at first (i.e. they're not bus proof – if the developer gets hit by a bus, your domain is gone).

I've actually come up with a proposal for a system that I think would do it right, and could easily get widespread adoption. It doesn't actually use blockchain technology. It's much simpler than that.

“I know that to many people these days, if it doesn't have the word 'blockchain' in it, they don't want to know. I saw this same thing when I worked in several Dot-Com companies in San Francisco in the mid- to late 90s. If anything had the word 'Dot-Com' in the company name, it got funding and attention, no matter how silly the business plan. Most of those websites are now 404.”

Basically [my idea is] customizable HOSTS.txt files, with a resolver built off the code of MeowBit, and a way for people with no computer skills to easily customize lists and share them via BitTorrent (without even needing to know what a HOSTS.txt file or BitTorrent is). Making it easy to compete to make and share the best lists would drive adoption.

This also prevents domain squatting, because there is not one list, there are many lists. And it costs nothing to create or use the lists.

The beauty of this system is it would not only enable people to make and share lists for preserving domain resolution in the case of censorship, it would allow square people to create self-censoring lists for their own family, business, church or organization.

It would use the power of nanny people wanting to censor things to drive the adoption of a system that would enable preventing censorship on a voluntary basis.

“Because, again, the real value of distributed systems is not the perfection of v1.0, it's the adoption of the system by v2.0.”

I encourage developers to check out my proposal, also read the comments on that post, and post a comment to me if you want to discuss implementing it. Or just go ahead and implement it. Send me an email if you do and I'll help you promote it.

Just joke =)



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