China is fast becoming the benchmark for strange and exotic ways of managing a national namespace.
The latest rumour to come out of the country suggest that authorities will require an in-person meeting with any prospective website operator behind a .CN domain name to green-light it.
The applicant would be required to show some kind of ID to ensure that the authorities can act against him should his website be used to display illicit content at any time.
Since last December, China has embarked on a fight against undesirable web content such as pornography. It started by closing off the very liberal .CN (used to be that anyone, from any country, could register) and limiting access to Chinese companies only.
The next step was excluding those foreign registrars that had been active on .CN ever since the Chinese government reached out to them in 2003 when .CN was first opened. As if blocking companies that had invested to add .CN to their registration systems and offer them to their customers wasn't enough, China then decided that any new .CN registration request would have to be made with heavy supporting documentation, thereby ending any hope for a relatively simple and cheap registration chain.
Problems for non-Chinese registrants and registrars alike have been compounded by the tendency for new rules to be announced only a few hours before coming into effect, giving all very little time to adapt.
Should this new requirement for website operators to meet with Chinese authorities in person be confirmed, it will be just one more example of this apparent lack of regard for .CN users and registrars worldwide.
"Let's twist again…" Whenever I hear about China's management of its namespace these days, I can't help but thinking about that old song.
China just doesn't seem to know whether it's coming or going anymore. First it barred foreign registrants in a surprise December 2009 move, and now it's decided to allow them back in.
But not like before, noooo Sir! Before the December rule change, .CN was open to all, private individuals and companies alike, and had no registration rules beyond the first-come, first served system which meant that the only possible case where a .CN could not be registered is if it had already been registered by someone else.
Since then, .CN has become a bureaucrat's dream and a registrant's nightmare. Individuals are barred. Companies must have a local office and register through that office. Those are the new rules as from today (Feb 10, 2010). Before, foreign companies simply could not register, even if they had a local office, despite what some registrars told their customers as they tried to twist and bend the rules.
So it looks like a lot of people are doing the twist around China these days. Would-be .CN registrants will now have to dance with the Chinese registry's draconian registration rules which include obligations to return documents within a (very short) time limit.
The best advice for prospective registrants at this stage: work with an accredited .CN registrar that not only knows the rules but is also able to assist you to work through the complexities of a registration request on a daily basis, until the name is actually confirmed.
What's going on in China? After taking everyone totally by surprise when they closed .CN to individuals on December 14, 2009, the Chinese authorities then went one step further and announced that, starting January 6, 2010, non-Chinese registrars would be barred from registering new names.
What brought this on? The new rules are a complete turnaround in policy from the laissez-faire attitude exhibited by the Chinese government and enacted by the national registry CNNIC ever since .CN was opened up as a top level domain on March 17, 2003. From that point on (previously the Chinese namespace was only open at the 3rd level, e.g. .COM.CN), China has seemingly had but one goal: amass as many .CN registrations as possible. And when the 14th million .CN domain was registered during 2009, the Chinese TLD became the world's most prolific country code.
Then came chaos. China claims the new ultra-restrictive registration rules are to limit the "authenticity, accuracy, and integrity" of its namespace. Chinese netizens have even been encouraged by the authorities to report offending websites and the domain names behind them.
However the new rules look more like a kneejerk reaction than anything carefully planned. After China's initial announcement, no-one at CNNIC or elsewhere seemed to know exactly who could register what. Not a day has gone by since during which accredited .CN registrars like INDOM haven't heard contradictory reports of what they can and can't do.
Last week, it finally seemed clear that only registered entities such as companies would now be eligible for a .CN domain and that foreign registrars could no longer register new names but could continue to manage their existing names.
Then, just as the dust finally seemed to be settling, I chanced upon this little gem. It would now seem that CNNIC has reversed the rules and will allow individuals to register domains after all. (Although INDOM's registry liaison team has been unable to confirm this and no official announcement has been made by CNNIC). "If we stop individuals obtaining domain names, they will register abroad or fake themselves as company applicants anyway," a director at CNNIC is quoted as saying, as if no-one could have thought of that 3 weeks ago…