Mar 252011

If you are serious about issues involving Internet infrastructure, then you’re probably a member of CircleID. It’s the online community where the “big brains” of the Internet go to debate Internet technology and policy.

I’d never claim to be one of those big brains, but I’ve been a member since 2005. And during that time I’ve gotten to know Ali Farshchian, the founder of CircleID. He has put together an online community that now receives more than 60,000 uniques per month and over 1 million pageviews annually, without compromising on the quality or the focus on the content.

With so much change swirling around Internet technology these days — DNSSEC, IPv6, new TLDs, BGP hijacks you name it — I thought it was high time I caught with Ali for his take. I spoke with him earlier this week, when he was just back from ICANN San Francisco.

Q:  Can you talk about how you started CircleID, and how it grew to be so influential?

AF:  I studied computer science, and really just wanted to understand better how the Internet worked. Exploring that question I stumbled into domain names and DNS, really. This was pre social media days, so the main sources of information were email lists and online forums.

I learned so much from these sources, I decided there should be a central repository of these conversations. So I started CircleID to fit that need. I reached out to the leaders of these groups — people like Vint Cerf and Paul Mockapetris — and personally asked for their participation. The site launched in September of 2002.

It was tough sledding for around six months, and then the site just took off. The growth has continued totally organically since, I’ve never advertised.

Q:  You’re just back from ICANN San Francisco — what were your impressions of the meeting?

AF: The first immediate impression was pure size and attendance. I helped ICANN organize its 2005 show in Vancouver, and this one was just so much larger. And now so many organizations and governments are focusing their attention on ICANN decisions. Former President Clinton speaking at the event was an example of this — and I thought he was quite inspirational talking about the centrality of the Internet in our lives today.

The other main impression was the dominance of business and political issues, not technical issues. Those are the areas of contention today.

Q:  What in your opinion are the biggest issues/trends affecting the Internet today?

AF: I’d turn that question around — it’s not what’s affecting the Internet, it’s the way the Internet is affecting everything. The biggest trend I see is the way that the Internet is fused into almost everything we do today — business, life, everything. Much as President Clinton said in his speech.

What’s needed in my view is seeing the Internet as a sector, not just as communications technology or delivery channel. The Internet is now like the financial sector or the political sector in scope. It’s that significant. I think CircleID does a good job of covering a lot of Internet related news, but the sector really needs its own Economist, its own Wall Street Journal.

The other trend I’d note is the way the Internet has totally remade B2B communication. The Internet powers a “communities” approach, of which CircleID is an example. We’re totally open platform, profitable and totally scalable.

Communities are not easy to build, you need to earn the credibility and trust, and police the interactions to an extent. But once you reach a critical point in audience participation, you see people valuing the content they’ve contributed, and it almost becomes like a “nesting” phenomenon. This then builds on itself, and can be a barrier to entry for competitors.

Q:  There are so many significant changes being debated right now — what’s your 12-18 month view for Internet infrastructure?

AF: First, let me say that the expertise on CircleID doesn’t come from me or my staff, but from the contributions of the community.

Having said that, I’d say that new TLDs will happen. There has been too much work and debate for them not to. Brand TLDs in particular are going to have a huge effect on how online marketing is done. Brands will now have total control of their domain, and this will help address some current problems like cyber-squatting.

Generics will be similarly powerful, and in that case one company or organization could potentially brand an entire vertical. So deciding on those names promises to be contentious.

The focus on improving the security of key Internet protocols will continue. IPv6 is an example of this, and will continue to grow in importance. Scarcity of IPv4 addresses is becoming a real concern — witness the purchase by Microsoft of IPv4 IP blocks from Nortel.

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