Monday, April 28, 2008

Five tech blogs you should have on your list

A while back Mark Cuban, tech entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, blogged about his two favourite technology magazines: one was about the broadband marketplace ( while the other was the title Communications Technology ( The thing I like most about this blog entry was that I'd never heard of either site/magazine, and given that the recommendation came from Cuban (, who is himself a compelling read, I (rightly) figured they'd be worth adding to my reading list.

Not that I needed any more reading sources -- my RSS reader (if a blog/web site doesn't offer an RSS feed these days, I simply don't read it) has over 100 feeds and normally a backlog of articles in the thousands. As such, I'm in the process of culling my reading list to something of more manageable proportions. Before I do that, however, I thought I'd offer my own recommendations. Herewith, then, are the first five of my top-10 tech blogs and information sources, in no particular order. The second batch will be dispatched in a coming column.

TECHDIRT: There are a whole bunch of players that churn out scores of stories per day via a team of reporters, the online equivalent of the quickly-fading IT trade press. They all tend to cover the same stories, all reasonably well, so you really only need one of these on your list. Some of the sites in this category include Om Malik's GigaOM, The Register, Ars Technica, and Tech Crunch. However, the one that I tend to use most is Techdirt (, mainly because I find it provides more analysis and context to its stories. The Register would be a candidate, especially as it's not US-centric like the others, but it's not at all friendly towards RSS readers so doesn't make the list.

O'REILLY RADAR: Many will have heard of O'Reilly through its books and conferences and may also be aware that founder Tim O'Reilly is credited with coining the term Web 2.0. As you'd expect, the publishing company has a great online presence and practices what it preaches when it comes to social networking and blogging. While there are numerous blogs available on its site, the one I turn to most is its Radar blog (at, which has a range of contributors and is especially strong on its coverage of Web 2.0, social networking themes and emerging technologies. In their own words, "we draw from the wisdom of the alpha geeks in our midst, paying attention to what's interesting to them, amplifying these weak signals, and seeing where they fit into the innovation ecology."

TELCO 2.0: If you want insights into future telco business models, then go no further than the Telco 2.0 blog (, which is produced by research and analysis firm STL Partners. Their Telco 2.0 initiative aims to look at how the telecom industry can make money in an IP world and includes regular brainstorming sessions and conferences around the same theme. While there are some obvious plugs for the conferences and research products, there's also a lot of good information and tidbits from their research results as well as commentary on telco news. Incidentally, I came across this site thanks to the blog of Martin Geddes, who is now part of STL Partners. While Telepocalypse is not updated as often as it was in the past, it's still worth a read.

SCRAWFORD.NET: If policy and regulatory matters matter, then try Susan Crawford's blog at Crawford is on the ICANN board of directors and also teaches Internet and communications law at Yale Law School. Typical topics on the Crawford beat include an in-depth look at the 700MHz spectrum auctions in the US; discussions around network neutrality; goings-on at ICANN and the implications of filtering/blocking. It's telecom regulatory issues through the rigourous mind of a legal practitioner.

SILICON ALLEY INSIDER: Remember Henry Blodget? He was the high-flying securities analyst at Merrill Lynch during the heady days before the dot-com crash who later was charged with securities fraud when things went pair-shaped. Whatever you think of the guy, he's certainly abreast of what's happening in the digital world and you can now catch up with his regular analysis at Silicon Alley Insider ( Blodget is one of the three founders of the site/blog, which was started last year and seems to be expanding rapidly, with commentators from the likes of Forbes and Variety added to the roster. It's a site that goes well beyond straight news and a must-have on any high-tech reading list.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Master of your own domain? Probably not

So who really owns and controls our domain names? Unfortunately, just because a domain is registered in your name or company doesn't mean you have complete control over it. Take the case of Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders, who was planning to upload a controversial film critical of Islam on to his web site. Before he could do so, Network Solutions -- the company that controls the ".com" and ".net" domain space -- decided to take preemptive action and suspend his web site (

So Network Solutions has, in effect, expanded its role from domain name registrar to first-stage gatekeeper and censor. But it's not the only one making, or capable of making, such decisions. According to Karl Auerbach, a former ICANN board member, many domain name registrars have similar policies that allow them to take over a domain name registration on very subjective criteria.

Commenting on the Wilders case on a mailing list recently, Auerbach suggests that we now have a de facto law of the Internet in which registrars can impose their private view of Internet morality and acceptable use. "Given that most registrars are for-profit companies they will generally take the path that is most likely to avoid conflicts -- which tends to mean a rather puritanical outlook and a willingness to sacrifice a $10 domain name registrant," he said.

The Wilders case is only the most recent in a long list of examples of censorship via domain name -- a trend that seems to be growing. As most already know, there are many services that baulk at having anything to do with sites critical of China and will pull such sites if they think it will dampen their business. However, even freedom-loving America has been at the forefront thanks to the takedown of whistle-blower site (it's now back up).

For those who missed it, a US district court judge ordered a domain registrar to delete from the domain name system (DNS). The reason? Because it posted some documents from a dodgy bank in the Cayman Islands, that bastion of dodgy banks. Given that the US is trying to clean up banking in places like the Cayman Islands, you'd think the authorities would have been happy, but no, they didn't even give Wikileaks a chance to defend itself in court -- it was simply and swiftly cut off.

The scary think about the case is that the authorities knew they could not simply ask the hosting service to take it down -- in this case it was hosted in the more freedom-conscious Sweden. So they went directly to the service that hosted its DNS records in the US. Thankfully, there are always ways to route around censorship, and you could still get to the site via alternative domains in the likes of Germany ( and Belgium (.be) or via an IP address.

LOCAL CONTROLS: The stories of domain control got me thinking again about how important it is to find a domain name registrar that is as flexible and non-controlling as possible. Recently I've been working with a web site that had a domain name registered via Melbourne IT, one of the region's largest registrars and hosting services. The domain has been dormant for a while so I wanted to get a basic site up and running quickly as well as attach a few email addresses to the domain.

One of the quickest and cheapest ways of getting a web presence is to use the services at Google Apps, which I'd done before. So we decided to get something up with this and then plan a more elaborate site, perhaps with third-party hosting, through the new ".Asia" name that has also been acquired. The problem is, Melbourne IT doesn't seem to work well with Google Apps, which may or may not have something to do with the fact that Google's free service is likely to steal business from Melbourne IT's paid-for web and mail hosting services.

Specifically, to use Google Apps you first have to prove that you own the domain. You can do this either by uploading a piece of code to your domain or by creating a CNAME record with the same Google-generated code. Sounds technical but it's actually straightforward, and altering the CNAME record to point to Google is something you have to do later anyway. The problem is, Melbourne IT doesn't allow you to do either.

I contacted their customer support, both via email and phone, and both times they told me that I couldn't do what I wanted. They don't offer any access to the CNAME records, despite this being a common task and available through most domain registrars, and they pointed out that if I wanted to upload Google's 1K file for verification I would have to sign up for hosting. Even the suggestion that I would find another registrar didn't seem to push them into finding me a solution.

Thankfully, in Australia the local domain authority (auDA) mandates that registrars must transfer a domain name to another registrar if requested by the user. That's a process I'm starting now. First up though, I'll be researching to make sure that the new registrar is as flexible and user-friendly as possible. -- Geoff Long