RealNames

Dave is heralding the demise of RealNames. The guy from RealNames is understandably pretty down about the whole thing. He feels that the service was extremely strategic to Microsoft, and that Microsoft is crazy for not renewing the contract when it expired. This is an admirible, though not completely unexpected, loyalty to the product and company that he created. It is what I would want from the CEO of my company if I ran such a startup.
I am a customer of RealNames as well, and as a customer I will be sad when my keyword stops working and people who remembered only my keyword are unable to reach my site. As a customer, I’ll also be wondering where my refund for the fee that I paid is. On the other hand, as a shareholder (and employee) of Microsoft, I would expect the company to spend my resources wisely. If spending more resources on RealNames is not going to improve the value of my stock, then the company has an obligation to not renew the contract.

Yes, I think that Microsoft has an obligation to be a good industry citizen. I would expect the company to deal with RealNames fairly and honestly. I would expect the company to consider all of the potential impacts (including keywords expiring in Asia, etc.) before making a decision. Although the RealNames guy (naturally) disagrees with the decision that was reached, he doesn’t seem to be alleging that Microsoft failed to follow a rational decision-making process. He is simply “bitterly disappointed by the lack of vision”.

RealNames was an interesting concept, and a good company. And Teare’s bitterness is completely forgivable. But I think that he makes a few claims which could use some response:

  • Control – He says that “The browser is now back under Microsoft’s control and it is possible that – having learned much from RealNames – it will develop its own version of our resolution service.” Which is kind of hard to believe, considering the position of Microsoft being (as he acknowledges) that search is more compelling scenario for users than a system which sells inflexible 1:1 mappings between keyword and domain name to the first person to pay. And the assertion that Microsoft said “we control search 100%” is pretty strange, since Google is so obviously leading in this category. And it is kind of misleading to say that “Microsoft controls the browser market”, as if Microsoft is the only company that could provide for RealNames survival.
    In fact, it would be trivial for RealNames to provide a plugin for IE which could be installed by the user and would provide keyword resolution services. In other words, there is nothing technically stopping RealNames from continuing to be used — the only thing that RealNames is losing is the sweet exclusive “bundling” deal that they had with IE. If RealNames is such an essential product, there is nothing at all stopping AOL from bundling it with the huge chunk of the browser market that they control.

  • Openness – He seemingly contradicts himself by repeatedly saying how visionary it is to have one company (RealNames) replace the supposedly deficient DNS system, and alternately complaining that Microsoft is bad for (allegedly) wanting to control things. He doesn’t really define which part of RealNames was the strategic part (end-running ICANN, or doing simple keyword lookup), but in either case he does not makes the case that RealNames was the best place to do that. He claims that “The only naming technology in the world capable of allowing non-ASCII characters to be used as web addresses is being killed at birth”. This is patently false. I personally have purchased two domain names that are entered and resolved in Chinese. Netscape and IE both allow me to enter URLs in UTF-8 Chinese. One site that sells such domain names (I bought mine from Verisign) explains here why DNS is better than RealNames for international domain names. Put in the perspective of the numerous domain resolution providers already offering international names, the fact of one particular resolution provider losing a an exclusive bundling deal with Microsoft seems to have little to do with “openness”.

But like I said, I’ll be sad to see my RealName go. I just don’t see it being as significant as some will try to spin it.

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