Sucks to be you, ICANN. We can go our own way: Opera to support sites using renegade top-level domain .crypto

Opera has not only jump aboard the blockchain bandwagon, it has bought a first-class ticket: now it has announced its browser will be able to access websites that use the unofficial .crypto top-level domain.

On Monday, the Norwegian software maker released a new version of its lightweight browser for Android, and included support for a new protocol, called the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS), that promises to provide a "decentralized web" that archives data and webpages in a shared blockchain. This data can be retrieved via .crypto domains, largely bypassing the domain name system. The Android app can also use these unofficial .crypto domains to exchange cryptocurrency.

Support for .crypto in Opera will "bring the blockchain-browsing experience to a new level," the Scandi biz said.

Crucially, dot-crypto simply doesn't exist in the global domain name system, and is not recognized by DNS overseer ICANN nor DNS resolvers the world over. It is a renegade generic top-level domain.

The force behind .crypto, Unstoppable Domains, claims all kinds of benefits to its approach. Because any website archived using its system would be stored in a decentralized way, it says it is impossible to take down websites and so its domains cannot be censored.

It, and others, claim that the approach relieves pressure on internet bandwidth by spreading the load for delivering content across the whole network; it would mean that website content doesn't simply disappear over time if someone stops paying for it to be hosted on a specific server.

But fundamentally the system's only really good use case is for cryptocurrency. By using a "domain" linked to the blockchain, sending and receiving cryptocurrency becomes much easier as you only need to recall a domain name (ending in .crypto) rather than a long ID sequence.

In its effort to carve a niche in the browser market, Opera has been embracing cryptocurrency. Back in December 2018, it added a built-in crypto wallet to its Android browser and then later to its desktop browser.

It then extended that to allow for purchases with cryptocurrency. As such, adding a simple addressing system makes sense. It is also a vote of confidence in Unstoppable Domains and Ethereum's alternate root approach.

Independent or reliant?

That said, despite some careful wording and some determined efforts to channel frustration with the current DNS (the saga of the .org proposed sale, for example), the approach is in no way an effective replacement to the current DNS, which is decentralized but for the root zone at its heart, overseen by ICANN subsidiary IANA.

For one, the .crypto domains are almost entirely reliant on the global DNS to function. If you go to one of the existing .crypto addresses - Unstoppable Domains is promoting four choices: Myetherwallet.crypto, coinomi.crypto, kyber.crypto and pomp.crypto - chances are that you will end up viewing it on someone else's traditional domain; a dot-com or .io. For example, Myetherwallet.crypto redirects to a cloudflare-ipfs.com/ipfs URL, when using Unstoppable Domains' Chrome extension.

As such, the system is riding on top of the existing DNS rather than operating as an alternative.

Until Opera's announcement, the only way to view the domains was to install the Chromium-based Unstoppable Browser, or the aforementioned browser plugin - an approach that has been tried in the past but never found much support (New.net, anyone?)

The system is also going to suffer from the exact same problems as the dark web. It attracts fraudsters and criminals and so scares off most users while drawing in law enforcement like a magnet. And then to top it all off, there is the price for a .crypto domain: $200.

On one level, at least Unstoppable Domains hasn't made the mistake of charging a low price (or even give domains away for free) which would almost certainly overwhelm it with bad people, but is anyone willing to pay $200 for an address on an untested system that is reliant on a small number of other organizations to stay functioning?

Opera seems to think it's a risk worth taking. Here's what its Head of Crypto Charles Hamel said about the move: "Being able to acquire cryptocurrencies without having to go through an exchange, directly from the wallet makes the process easy for our users. Expanding this feature to more regions is key to driving blockchain-adoption." ®

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