Decentralized TLDs (top level domains)— the foundation for a new internet?
How I found out about Handshake
Ever since https://fsn.domains/ started building on Fusion, I’ve become more and more interested in the intersection between internet domains and blockchain.
It has made me want to explore these questions:
- Could a domain replace cryptographic public keys as a recieving point, and could this become like the “email of money”?
- Could these same domains be useful on the regular web, for website hosting, while at the same time being truly owned by those who have them without the need for subscribing fees as well as be traded freely in various ways?
- What are the limits? Can it be made universal on all chains? Is any name possible?
This is not concepts far from the concept of USAN that has existed on Fusion for a long time. But a name of your choice is a little cooler than a random number, especially if you can also use it to host content.
My journey here began by approaching https://fsn.domains/ about the possibility to create .free domains which led to the start of a collaboration regarding building out for the possibility of owning more types of domains on Fusion. I won’t go into details about this until it’s more complete.
But I will tell you a little about the limits of .free when it comes to website hosting. Because it can be a good way to understand what is, and what isn’t possible. .com .free, etc are known as top level domains and .com belong to Verisign and .free belong to someone for sure as well, even though .free domains have yet to pop up. Verisign and registrations in the .com domain are processed via “registrars accredited” by ICANN, a centralized organization responsible for these matters. And sublevel domains (SLDs) of .com and are used and rented out en masse, .free is not. However, at some point that could happen. For example 101domain.com seem to be offering “pre-registration of .free. It’s a hot cookie, maybe kept back on purpose for some time.
What does this mean for the possibility of .free domains on Fusion? It means it is definatly possible to start to issue .free SLDs and people can use them as recieving points instead of public keys, just like .fsn domains can be used right now, but it also means that this is probably what the limit of their use should be. Bringing them to other chains might not be a great idea and trying to host a website on them is probably doomed to failure. .fsn however is an entierly different story, because it’s extremely unlikely that ICANN has any plans for it.
And this brings me to the meat of my story, because there exists a crypto project that, I was told about by an old Fusion follower, and it is going full force in terms of finding utilization for all the TLDs that ICANN are likely to never touch, and I think it’s something that can be truly revolutionary and I also think Fusion and Chainge could help it become even greater (more on this later).
The name of this project is Handshake (HNS). As a blockchain it is similar to Bitcoin and powered by PoW (Proof of Work), but it exists for a very specific purpose. To secure TLDs (all of them, including those ICANN are already using or reserving). When the chain launched, it did so in a manner where 100 000 names were already reserved. The owners, were either ICANN or those who owned the websites the most highly connected to those names. In fact, the way in which it was determined what names were reserved was that it was among the 100k most used websites worldwide. This way the leaders of current web won’t feel like Handshake OGs will be blackmailing them to take ownership of their “own” TLD. Instead they can claim it for free. This is an important key part in making something like this possible. (Worth noting: the potential for various blackmailing scenarios surround this is still high, just with “mid-level victims” instead of “high-level victims”. Taking myself as an example, immediatly upon noticing me taking interest in HNS, someone has secured .fusionite and is currently selling it for 35000 HNS).
For Fusion related things, and the plans I had, I found that .fsn .fusion .chainge .fmn .freemoon were all outside that list of the 100k websites in Handshake, and were for sale, while for example .chng belongs to chng.com.cn and remains unclaimed by them. Since then I have spent around 400k HNS to buy and secure .fsn .fusion .chainge .fmn .freemoon within handshake so that the possibility of hosting web content on their SLDs remains a possibility.
How to become a Namesweeper
Since I had to cough up quite a bit of HNS to be able to do this, I figured I should get a little bit more involved and maybe secure up some other TLDs while I was at it and maybe find ways to make back the money.
Now a few weeks later I have secured over 1500 TLDs, most of them new ones, no one had so far bothered to get. Though millions of TLDs have already been secured in Handshake, I think the act of doing it is still very much a ripe opportunity waiting to be harvested. Personally I explored the following themes:
- Names that mean something for me personally. Words or names I’ve made up throughout the years, or which might mean something to my closest family. Anything from places I lived, to fictional characters I’ve made up to unusual nicknames like .individualpirate. Get this stuff, for yourself, before someone else gets it and tries to blackmail you.
- Things related to Fusion, Chainge and Crypto. I got a lot of these of course, and many times much more than I would have expected. Like .optionsdex or .rpcgateway .dep2p .twipper I would have expected to be long gone, while things like .timevalueextraction .timeslicing I realised I had figured I would be able to get and indeed it went mostly without issues. Some of the best names I found I ended up losing though due to late bidders coming in and snatching it at the end. I had for example been first to find and open auctions for .fiatgateway .optionsexchange .safep2p .xroute .tlfsn but ended up losing these and others due to another bidder coming in right at the end. The majority though, no one touched or bothered about. Worth noting is it seemed like there was an acclerated interest in my auctions. The first days nobody bothered much about them, but eventually over half the auctions seemed to start being challenged, usually right at the end.
- I realised that getting domains in “other languages” could be more ripe with opportunity and started searching for some valuable domains in Swedish but also in Hungarian, which seemed very unexploited so far. I think this aspect also analyzes the real need for this. As current TLDs are kind of unfairly tweaked towards the latin alphabet and the english language. In many parts of the world, the internet might blooom more with more letters involved in the TLDs, allowing for simple names in those languages. For example I managed to secure .ház (house in Hungarian). Wouldn’t it make sense for the Hungarian real estate market to make use of that or something similar? Websites worldwide could gain more local flavour, in case they want to.
- I also was surprised to find an unexploited opportunity in puny-codes. In the TLD world puny-codes are used whenever a non-latin letter or an emoji is involved. And though most the emojis and single letter domains in various shapes and forms are already gobbled up, I found another opportunity here. Puny codes always start with “xn--” and it semed almost no one had thought of securing up the xn double dash + common names combo. Or at the very least I was able to get things like .xn--binance, .xn--trx and xn--internet without any problems at all. In fact I made sure to secure most of the top 100 cryptos in a similar way. This concept becomes “extra cool” in cases where the “related art” somehow seem to descibe the word in question. Look for example at xn--bridge to see what I mean.
- Despite the word “name” being so central in handshake, I found it’s use in various “puns” very unexploited. For example I was able to start an auction on something so basic as .nameshaker (lost the auction unfortunatly). Other interesting ones I was able to get was for example .namesweeper .nameswitch though I also lost many of these due to interest from others, such as a really great one .changename.
I’m sure you can find your own themes for exploring new TLDs, because it’s truly not overexploited as of yet. So in order to get started in this “namesweeping” there are probably at least two tools you should be aware of. Bob Wallet and NameBase.
Bob Wallet — is a decentralized Handshake wallet where you can also seek new TLDs and start the auctions. Something you could also do in Namebase. However, new domain auction biding does not work well on Namebase, at least not currently, which is why having Bob Wallet is essential. When you find a new unexploited TLD, you’re allowed to start an auction for it. 5 hours later, bidding starts and lasts for a 5 day period. In my case I only bid 0.1 HNS for a domain in most cases. If I thought it was a domain others would be interested in I went a little higher 1.1 HNS or 2.1 HNS making it invisible at least to those looking specifically for 1 HNS or lower bids. A cheap but not supereffective protection for something that could be desirable. You’re free to use whatever startegy you want here. The functions also allow you to if you want, to bind an amount of HNS that is used as a “fake”, as in you wouldn’t actually pay that much, but other bidders won’t know that. What you mostly need to worry about is the very end of the auctions, because this is when other bidders tend to get in and compete. But if you are trying for a large number of names, it can be pretty hard to keep track of that, and Bobwallet doesn’t really warn you other biders came into it unfortunatly. After you are through the bidding the auction enters a 10 day “reveal period”, where everyone once again need to approve their bids, and then they get compared to determine the winner. I guess the reason this period is so long, is as to make sure no valid participant is excluded due to computer access reasons out of their control.
Important to know about Bob Wallet, is that it can take a while to get started with it, because at least in its regular setting, it will download the full chain to your computer and act as a “full node”. This is great but can take a while if you’re just getting started. An alternative is to “enable SPV node”, which will allow you to connect in a remote way to get you started more quickly. Also an important note, is that you can’t use the web extension version to get involved in the auctions. It’s the desktop version you need.
Namebase — is the other tool you probably will need. The name is kind of fitting, because you can think of it as being to decentralized TLDs like what Coinbase was to crypto in the early days. Namebase is in part a centralized exchange for HNS (against BTC), but it also offers the currently easiest way to trade already claimed TLDs. People are able to send each other anonymous offers for various TLDs, and the reciever can send a counter offer, until both parties eventually find a price they are happy with. This is where I was negotiating to buy .fsn .fusion .chainge. .fmn and .freemoon. I also bought some other names here I thought were quite cheap all things considered. In most cases these undervalued names seem to have been put up for sale in 2020 and have failed to update prices with time. Due to its centralized nature Namebase has some limits though such as US citizens not being able to send out HNS from their accounts here (and others seems to be limited to 5000 HNS/day). But even so, due to being a good platform for domain purchasing negotiations and also easy functionality as a forwarding service for TLDs you control, this is probably where you want to be keeping a lot of your domains and HNS. It’s simply useful there.
If you want to actually use a TLD for real. You should ideally set it up with its own Nameserver and SSL certificate. https://matthewzipkin.medium.com/building-a-secure-website-on-your-handshake-tld-a8922a950a4f
Does Handshake have competition and can it win?
There are a lot of different crypto projects who have began exploring the realm of domains. So let’s look a little at each of them and what they can do.
Unstoppable Domains — These guys have been an early player in exploring the connection between domains and crypto and have been selling for example .zil .crypto .dao .nft .wallet .888 .blockchain .bitcoin .x sublevel domains. One of the main selling points is that once you buy a domain here, it’s yours for life. No yearly renewal fees or similar. They have also forged a relationship with the Brave Browser such that the domains are useful in Brave, but it still has some big limits such as needing special configurations and active connection to a crypto wallet before being able to see any content. As a potential visitor to a site, I personally find it way too clunky and uninviting and the big masses are likely to be much more critical. So, despite been around so long, I really feel these still have lots of room for improvement to the extent that they risk being rendered irrelavent.
ENS Domains — Over the last year I think most who are in crypto will have noted ENS domains and the wild prices some of them have been selling for. But it’s really worth asking yourself if this is truly something worthwhile or just a temporary hype trend on the very, very crazy and insane Ethereum based NFT market. Unlike every other type of blockchain based domains, ENS requires you to renew the domain each year for a very high cost (In Handshake a cost also exists, but it’s supertiny = to the cost of a single chain tx. So if you want to hold 1000s of TLDs it’s quite affordable, whereas with ENS it probaby quickly leads to bankruptcy). And though .eth is a more established TLD (its webspace working for example relatively well in Brave) I think it needs to be put into question primarily 2 things. 1. How popular can really .eth be among the broader crowds. It’s really just one more TLD among many, currently perhaps with some unique functionality, but what if that stops being the case and others catch up? 2. The yearly cost associated with it is astonomical compared to what most are used to paying for webhosting today. As long as that is the case, it won’t be an option for a majority of people. Plus, it kind of takes away from the idea of “truly owning something on the blockchain” if you still need to pay a substantial amount for it once a year.
Web3 Domains — This is what I’m calling the guys who are building https://fsn.domains/ they’re also building on Elastos and on a bunch of other different chains. You could say they are copying what ENS did, but making it cheaper by being on cheap chains and not requiring any renewal fees at all.
The focus of Handshake is quite different from all of the above. Making all TLDs available for everyone, not really trying to sell anything. The selling is left to anonymous opportunists. The others function a bit like companys trying to make money while Handshake is just a decentralized blockchain looking to secure TLDs. But there’s still a journey to be had before it can be useful, and it has started already. https://learn.namebase.io/starting-from-zero/how-to-access-handshake-sites describes the current ways with which Handshake TLDs could be accessed. Personally I use the Beacon browser https://impervious.com/beacon
But rumours say that Opera support is on the way, and recently Brave developers have praised the project, so official establishment in more established browsers are on the horizon. “brendaneich” , founder Firefox and CEO Brave Browser has said “I think Handshake has the winning design”. So for me the question is, once highly used browser adoption happens, is this a force that could be stopped? Because the idea of anyone being in contol of any TLD in a decentralized way, is pretty powerful. To me it’s kind of like the first NFTs with actual real value, but which as a concept exist only due to the force of decentralized blockchains. To further things it has already been adoped by Namecheap https://www.namecheap.com/ a traditional domain dealer from the “ICANN era”, and they’ve put quite a bit of money in securing some of the domains. .p for example was acquired by them for 4.7 million HNS. As interesting example of potential value fb.com was bought by Facebook in 2010 for 8,5 million USD. They only use it as a forwarding link, but as a result they now also own .fb as a TLD, maybe that is a hint of these types of very short TLDs potential value?
Another intersting thing going on is Impervious (who built Beacon) which have also designed a way to decentralize TLDs in order to start selling their respective SLDs on Ethereum, in a way where you “permanently stake the TLD” in order to hopefully earn money from people wanting its SLDs in a way where they will be sure to fully control them for all time.
However, let me also provide some “solid FUD” to bring things into perspective. IAB (Internet Architecture Board) have issued a statement strongly against “dotless” domains. https://www.iab.org/documents/correspondence-reports-documents/2013-2/iab-statement-dotless-domains-considered-harmful/
I think the value of HNS TLDs need to be considered with this in mind. Because although there may indeed be a future for these TLDs, it looks brighter for the really short and easy ones that you could use like .com .net or .org are used today.
Though using any TLD (even long ones) as a forwarding service might be a tool working in some specialized browsers, it seems less likely that this aspect of things will reach wide mass adoption type appeal. It’d also kind of be a heavy uphill battle to fight such as going against the search engine giants like google (TLD forwarding being a kind of “optional query” to a “search engine request” when typed into a browser). Still I think all the TLDs, could have “collector value” regardless of whether or not any largely used browser allows them in a dotless way. Further, if unestablished TLDs without SLDs aren’t widely recognised in browsers, maybe that is what actually could prevent this from becoming the “mother of all domain blackmailing”. Which is actually a good thing. Instead it’s more like brands get an additional option to establish your own TLD with SLDs, but if that doesn’t appeal to you, don’t worry about some asshole holding “your TLD” because the forwarding power is still highly limited for the greater masses.
How is all this relavent for Fusion and Chainge?
Though TLDs may seem far removed from what the Finance focus of what Fusion and Chainge is doing, I can’t help to see an obvious synergy opportunity. Universal FRC759 assets on Fusion brought in through Chainge cross-chain roaming, represent one of the most complete sets of cryptomoney on any chain and the list will keep on growing. Chainge already provides an easy way to send money to any Twitter account or phone number, and Chainge account name. But what if you want to have something more “official looking” as your reception point. I belive an appropiate SLD is just that, and there existed already some preliminary plans to support the .fsn SLDs built by https://fsn.domains/ , but what if this was extended to the .whateveryouwant available through Handshake TLDs? What if we allow Handshake TLDs to mint any SLD they want on Fusiuon for a tiny cost so people can start owning their yourname.whateveryouwants, and guarantee these domains could have both fully secure money sending power and secure web hosting power — The ultimate combination. It’s worth exploring for sure and I plan to do it with the help of https://fsn.domains/ and the HNS developer community. There are already some similar plans from other developers with bringing SLDs to Optimisim. I don’t see that as a bad thing as it makes it even easier to try and make it work in just the right way. On Fusion the domains could enjoy being traded in https://pasarprotocol.io/ and even more amazing if fully interactable and supported through Chainge Decentralized escrow https://chainge-finance.medium.com/world-meet-the-chainge-decentralized-escrow-protocol-ae2639e424b5 , which is definatly not something I’d rule out from happening. Maybe even the TLDs could be brought over “fully” in a fully secure cross-chain way (a bit more advanced, so maybe something to be put on hold for a later stage) to be traded in the escrow, in case that is something desirable. Lots of things like this could be possible, but here I have only analyzed one side of things.
Because honestly, HNS could also use Fusion’s help in other ways. And I plea Chainge to give this some priority. As a currency HNS is actually pretty weak and illiquid in its current state. If the chain would be integrated by Chainge, it could be fully integrated into DeFi and get more DEX presence across multiple chains (hopefully most notably in Fusion). I would say for Handshake the weakness of HNS is definatly currently the biggest problem. So let’s bring it into cross-chain DeFi! This is after all a chain that has invented a new type of actual real use and adoption for blockchain, it deserves some credit and connecting them credits Fusion in return for recognizing it.
To round things up, I want to announce that some the TLDs I’ve secured I’ll be giving away, simply because I wasn’t really securing them for myself but for others. I think in each case it’ll be 100% clear who I would give it to. So once those recieving parties have made themselves a Namebase account or a Bob wallet address they can contact me and I’ll gift them.
I also want to mention that I in no way consider myself an expert in the realm of “blockchain domains”, more like a beginner degen apeing into something that looks to have high potential, and feel that Fusion could really be a powerful “layer 2” to the Handshake base layer TLD blockchain bringing it into all aspects of Defi, and I hope others will feel the same way, so we can make it happen.