Re: [dnsext] BOF on variants for ICANN San Francisco

Andrew Sullivan <> Wed, 09 March 2011 20:15 UTC

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Date: Wed, 09 Mar 2011 15:16:47 -0500
From: Andrew Sullivan <>
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Subject: Re: [dnsext] BOF on variants for ICANN San Francisco
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No hat.

On Wed, Mar 09, 2011 at 11:36:56AM -0800, Doug Barton wrote:

> Further, the term "variant" has a relatively well understood meaning in  
> the TLD policy context, where it is generally understood to be a  
> simplification of several thorny technical problems.

I suspect I disagree with the above claim.  Specifically, I think I
disagree with "well understood".

In my experience, terms that have inherently ambiguous meaning are
almost never well understood.  It is of course possible to understand
ambiguity -- we wouldn't the word if we couldn't -- but in a wide
array of cases, I think ambiguous terms are badly understood by their

I also believe that part of the reason we are struggling with the
aliasing discussion is exactly that very careful needs assessment is
extremely hard.  It is made all the harder by the unfortunate re-use
of the term "Variant", which has a well-defined meaning in the context
of "Character Variant Table" from RFC 3743.  Attempting to simplify
such thorny technical problems by lumping them all together under one
term seems like a good idea, but it turns out not to be.

It is often useful to bundle together a bunch of topics and call them
by a more generic name.  (Patents and copyrights are vastly different
areas of the law, and yet it is sometimes useful to talk about
"intellectual property".  Philosophers and English scholars can often
barely stand to be in the same room with each other, and yet they can
all be professors of the Humanities.)  For the present discussion
about dealing with different labels (which happen to correspond to
particular bits of natural language that "mean the same" or something
like that), however, I think conflating these cases makes our task
much harder.  It has caused no small degree of mischief in the TLD
policy arena, where in-principle solvable and necessarily unsolvable
problems are sometimes spoken of as though they were the same.

As perhaps the more technical end of an interchange with policy people
at an ICANN meeting, those of us who care about this topic could help
(in my opinion) a great deal just by teasing apart these ambiguities
and trying to ensure that every time a term is used, it is used
univocally.  It might be painful, but in anticipation of the
conversation we plan to have in Prague, it will no doubt help
crystallize which issues are clear (so we can decide whether we know
what to do), and which issues we do not yet understand. 

Best regards,


Andrew Sullivan
Shinkuro, Inc.