The name game

Finding Dapps and services on the decentralized web is about as fun as fealty. The Ethereum Name Service wants to make things easier, if it can find enough users to buy into it.

The decentralized web is an inhospitable zone for humans. Unlike the regular web, where services are accessed by typing in a bunch of words like google.com or decryptmedia.com (two sites of equal importance), finding sites, wallets and domains in this space involve typing things like 0x4cbe58c50480 into a compatible browser and hoping you haven’t made a typo.

The internet used to be like that–users had to key in the IP address of a site to access it. Then Domain Name Services (DNS) came along and made things dreamy and language based. The Ethereum Name Service is vying to become the decentralized web’s answer to DNS. But things are far from straightforward.

At present, ENS allocates sites on either the .eth and .xyz suffix via an auction system, which can take days to finish. If you’re lucky enough to outbid the competition, you’re faced with an arduous four-step registration process and more waiting around. In that time your project’s value could have dropped to zero and all that effort will be worth nowt.

From November 6 however, they’re adding a new web domain, .luxe, where those four steps are replaced by just one as well as binning the bidding system for all domains in favor of the trusted process of buying a domain when you want it and paying a yearly rent to keep your hands on it.

“This demonstrates the usability you can get and the improvements in usability by integrating existing systems with web3,” says Nick Johnson, core developer at Ethereum and creator of ENS, speaking live at Devcon3 in Prague.

By scrapping auctions, prices have dropped too, with domain names being offered for as little as $10 a year with contract length’s going from one to, er… a 100 years. That’s some serious long-term planning. While these are much-welcomed changes, ENS, like pretty much the rest of the decentralized web has a user–or lack thereof–problem.

If a service isn’t easy to use, users won’t use it. Dapp developers meanwhile, don’t want to have to buy and maintain ENS domains if there isn’t any demand for it. Johnson describes this as a chicken and egg situation, admitting that this is its biggest challenge. “I think the bigger problem is getting support in nodes and toolsets, in libraries that people use and in the end user apps,” he says.

But Johnson is still hopeful. He believes ENS can become the de facto naming tool by selling his service to the wallets and code libraries, two areas of the decentralized web that attract users consistently, and hoping the rest of the community follows. He’s had some early success, with projects including MetaMask, Status and Cipher all hopping aboard. Time will tell if Johnson is successful. For the rest of us, we’re just going to have to keep living in the land of illegible addresses for a bit longer yet.

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