This post was last updated on February 11th, 2020 at 11:46 pm
Quotes“We need a blockchain-based, decentralized naming system. Which it turns out is not only better for cryptocurrency addresses but for anything that you want to name.” ~@BrantlyMillegan, Director of Operations @ensdomains Click To Tweet “Our long term plan is that we want ENS to integrate and expand the usefulness of the current DNS namespace. We don't want to compete with DNS. We want to support it.” ~@BrantlyMillegan, Director of Operations @ensdomains Click To Tweet “That ENS runs on @ethereum can be completely abstracted away from the user… They could be sending #bitcoin to brantly.xyz and not know they're making use of Ethereum.” ~@BrantlyMillegan, Director of Operations @ensdomains Click To Tweet
Welcome to this conversation with Brantly Millegan, Director of Operations at Ethereum Name Service (ENS), a non-profit organization that allows users to register human-friendly addresses for sending money and interacting with smart contracts. For example, ENS lets Alice shorten her 0x-prefixed Ethereum address (something like “0x4cbe58c50480…”) to “alice.eth.”
This conversation with Brantly is split into 3 chapters:
- Chapter 1: An explanation of what naming systems are
- Chapter 2: How ENS works and what users can do with it
- Chapter 3: A Q&A covering ENS’ competitors, future use cases & more
Topics Discussed In This Episode
- Why we need naming systems
- The origins of DNS
- How blockchain makes ENS censorship-resistant
- The importance of individual name ownership
- Programming ENS names using smart contracts
- The difference between .eth and ENS
- ENS wallet and browser integrations
- What an ENS record looks like
- Use cases: forward/reverse resolution, .onion resolution & more
- Why ENS is no longer creating new TLDs (top-level domains)
- How to secure an ENS domain name in just a couple of minutes
- Differences between ENS, Handshake & Unstoppable Domains
- How ENS is funded
- Why ENS charges fees
- Projects that Brantly would like to build on top of ENS
- Trading a .eth name on a crypto exchange like any other NFT
Links Relevant To This Episode
- Popular Crypto Weekly Newsletter
- Clay Collins
- Brantly Millegan
- Ethereum Name Service
- Brantly on Twitter
- ENS on Twitter
- Protocol Labs
- Truffle Suite
- Universal Login
- Unstoppable Domains
- Nick Johnson
Clay: Welcome to Flippening, the first and original podcast for full time, professional, and institutional crypto investors. I’m your host, Clay Collins. Each week, we discuss the cryptocurrency economy, new investment strategies for maximizing returns, and stories from the frontlines of financial disruption. Go to flippening.com to join our newsletter for cryptocurrency investors and find out just why this podcast is called Flippening.
Clay Collins is the CEO of Nomics. All opinions expressed by Clay and podcast guests are solely their own opinion and do [00:00:30] not reflect the opinion of Nomics or any other company. This podcast is for informational and entertainment purposes only and should not be relied upon as the basis for investment decisions.
Welcome to this conversation with Brantly Millegan, Director of Operations at Ethereum Name Service, otherwise known as ENS.
I should note that this particular episode was recorded in front of a live audience. If you’d like to attend a live Flippening Podcast recording and directly [00:01:00] submit interview questions to guests, then please go to flippening.com and subscribe. After you’ve subscribed, we’ll be sure to send you email notifications before live recording sessions so you can join us if you want. Space is limited to 100 attendees per recording, so go to flippening.com again to subscribe and join us for the next live recording of this podcast.
With that established, let’s talk about ENS. ENS is a non-profit organization that allows users to register human-readable addresses for sending money or interacting with smart contracts. [00:01:30] For example, ENS lets Alice shorten her long Ethereum address to alice.eth. In my opinion, ENS and technologies like it are part of the core UX infrastructure required for mass crypto adoption.
Think about it. In the very early days of the Internet, users could only reach servers by their IP addresses. Then DNS appeared and enabled human-readable domain names, like nomics.com, for example. In addition, we used to have to remember long phone numbers. Now we just tap a name on our cell phone [00:02:00] and we dial that person. Projects like ENS are bringing the same user-friendly functionality to crypto.
My conversation with Brantly is split into 3 chapters. In chapter 1, Brantly explains what naming systems are. In chapter 2, we learn how ENS works and what users can do with it. chapter 3 is an open Q&A. In this chapter, we cover a range of interesting topics submitted by me and attendees of our live recording session.
We’ll get to the interview in just a second, but before we get started, I’d like to pause for a moment to tell you that this episode is brought to you [00:02:30] by the good folks at Nexo. Here’s a word from them. Nexo is the only lender offering instant crypto credit lines which let you use digital assets as collateral to get cash in 45 fiat currencies and stablecoins.
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Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program. Here’s my conversation with Brantly Millegan from [00:05:30] Ethereum Name Service. Enjoy.
Clay: Let’s start with chapter 1, which is about naming systems. Brantly what is a naming system?
Brantly: A naming system is just a look-up system. That’s it. Many people overcomplicate naming systems. They think that the naming system is passing your request along [00:06:00] to the next service or something like it. It’s not. All naming system is, is you have names, if you have information attached to those names. That’s it. You provide the name, you look up the information. Your system might then do something with that information, but that is separate from the naming system.
For example, when you go to google.com, your computer first connects to DNS (the Domain Name System). Through a certain process, it basically finds out, “Where are the google.com web servers?” [00:06:30] The DNS tells your computer and then your computer connects to the web servers. That is separate from DNS.
In the case of ENS, let’s say with cryptocurrency wallets, if I want to send, let’s say Bitcoin to brantly.eth, what your wallet does is it goes to the ENS, finds the record, gets the Bitcoin address, and then brings it back to the wallet. The wallet sends the Bitcoin transaction on the Bitcoin network. ENS doesn’t do that, so that confuses a lot of people.
Why do we even have naming systems? [00:07:00] Well, because what makes sense to computers doesn’t necessarily make sense to humans, and vice-versa. Computer identifiers can be automatically generated. Think cryptocurrency addresses or IP addresses. They can be automatically generated, numbers and letters, computer can instantly identify what that means but a human can’t.
Humans want language. We want to be able to read a word. Of course, those can’t be as easily just automatically generated. Different words or combination have different meanings or significance. You have to have something that can map these two things and that’s what a naming system does. [00:07:30]
Blockchains, of course, have a similar problem as the early Internet, as was mentioned in the introduction. This is what an Ethereum address looks, a Bitcoin address, it’s super non-user friendly. You can’t remember it, you can’t type it, you can’t say it, it looks intimidating. You have to copy and paste it or scan a QR code, but that doesn’t work for all situations. We need something else.
Now, to solve this problem, we actually could use DNS, the existing Domain Name System. It’s interesting we haven’t realized this. [00:08:00] This comes down to the fact that if a naming system can name one type of piece of information, they can actually name anything. A lot of people think of DNS is just for the web or for email. Well, a couple things to understand. One, DNS actually was created before the web was invented. DNS was not created for the web. It was created for other things. The web was invented and then just used DNS. That’s now a primary use case.
You can store any [00:08:30] type of information in DNS. You could store a phone number. You could store your mailing address, if you wanted to. People don’t do this, but you could. DNS basically could just extend itself and create a new record type for cryptocurrency addresses.
Now, why don’t we do this? Well, DNS was created in the 1980s and it was the best at 1980s technology. It works fine, but it’s fairly centralized (which has pros and cons about it). It has security problems and this would not be very [00:09:00] safe for cryptocurrency addresses. It goes against the whole blockchain ethos. What we need is a blockchain-based decentralized more secure naming system, which it turns out is not only better for cryptocurrency addresses but for anything that you want to name.
Basically, blockchain technology allows for a better naming system in general. What are some advantages that ENS would have, or really any blockchain-based naming system have over DNS? A number of things. [00:09:30] One, a way simpler infrastructure. The DNS system has this hierarchical server system, it’s fairly complex that different organizations (both for-profit and nonprofit) run these servers around the world. That is completely replaced by just simply a set of smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain. It’s way simpler. As a result, there’s zero downtime. You can’t DDoS the Ethereum blockchain.
Clay: Hey, this is Clay cutting in from the editor’s booth to explain what Brantly means by DDoS. [00:10:00] DDoS stands for Distributed Denial of Service. It’s a cyber attack that is often used to take down a server. The important point here is that DNS, which is centralized, is far more susceptible to a DDoS attack than ENS, which runs on Ethereum, a decentralized blockchain.
All right, back to the show.
Brantly: In fact you could be running your own full node on your own computer. Unless you’re DDoSing yourself, you have access to the information. Even in offline situation [00:10:30] because if it’s on your own computer, you’re just reading it. It’s decentralized, which means it is more censorship-resistant. With DNS, somebody always runs the server somewhere. Somebody can change the information, which can be good and bad. But with ENS, it runs on the Ethereum blockchain. It can’t be as easily changed. ENS has built-in cryptography and individual ownership of names.
Now, this actually is an interesting thing. When DNS launched back in the 80s, back in the day, public-private key cryptography was actually illegal. [00:11:00] That was invented in the 1970s. There’s a fascinating story here. I won’t recount all of it, but it was invented in the 70s. It was invented in the United States. It was considered so powerful that it was classified as a defense weapon. If you were caught passing this technology to a non-American, this was a threat to national security and you could go to jail.
When DNS launched, it did not make use of public-private key cryptography. DNS didn’t have that when it started. [00:11:30] They have a system called DNSSEC, trying to put that on it, not everybody uses it. ENS has it built-in. Related to that, we have individual ownership of names. So again, with DNS somebody runs the server somewhere. You might have the rights to brantly.com, but the people who run the DNS servers really control it. With ENS, only the owner has control over it. As a result of that, there’s better security.
ENS also makes names programmable. Because it says smart contracts, [00:12:00] they can also interact with other Ethereum smart contracts. This is a powerful thing that you can do with ENS that you cannot do with DNS. You can program names to do things automatically because it’s all smart contracts. You can have your name automatically do something in response to something else on the Ethereum blockchain that has nothing to do with naming. If my CDP of my maker thing gets called in, then I want something to happen to my ENS name. You could [00:12:30] program that. I don’t know why you do that specifically, but it’s just an example.
You can also have names and records that nobody controls with ENS. You could register a name (I’ve done this), set up the records, and then transfer ownership to a contract or an address that nobody controls. That name and those records still exist and still resolve, just nobody controls it.
Our ENS-native top-level domain is .eth, which was launched 2½ years ago. [00:13:00] There’s about 310,000 .eth names registered. That’s just second-level domains, call it name domains. That does not include sub-domains, which there’s even thousands of those. It’s even more than that.
If you compare .eth to the new crop of GTLDs that launched about eight years ago with ICANN, .eth would actually be one of the most successful new top of the domains on the Internet. Despite the fact that some of you OGs out there know, until a few months ago it was very difficult to get [00:13:30] a .eth name. You had to go through this complicated auction process. You lost your unrevealed bids, rest in peace. You have to have Ether, you have to be Ethereum-savvy to get this. It’s really incredible that despite all those roadblocks, we have never done any marketing. Despite that, it’s been so successful.
Another key thing, though, is that ENS is not equivalent to the .eth namespace. .eth is just a top-level domain that we created that exists on ENS, [00:14:00] but ENS itself is actually a blockchain-based naming infrastructure that can support any name. It’s just because it’s native, it has certain security benefits and it’s sort of an experimental zone. Our long-term plan is that we want ENS to integrate, support, and expand the usefulness of the current DNS namespace. We don’t want to compete with that, we want to support it.
We’ve actually already started this process. We’ve already integrated .xyz, .lux, .cred, and .arts. [00:14:30] I own brantly.xyz on DNS. I also claimed the corresponding ENS record and it’s not brantly.eth, it’s brantly.xyz on ENS. Brantly.eth is a separate name on ENS. If you go to brantly.xyz (I have a personal website there), you can also send me cryptocurrency to brantly.xyz, for example, in trust walls. You can send me Dogecoin.
This is really important because what it means is that for users, the fact that ENS runs on Ethereum in the background, it can be [00:15:00] completely abstracted away from the user. They could be sending Bitcoin to brantly.xyz and not know that they’re making use of Ethereum in the background.
We plan on integrating the rest of the DNS namespace in the next few months. Basically, these other ones were experiments that works well. Now, we’re going to roll it out. Soon, you’ll be able to send Bitcoin to google.com if Google sets it up correctly.
We are the leaders in the cryptocurrency wallet naming space. We’re the standard. We’ve got about 50 wallets signed up, [00:15:30] all the top ones, and these are wallets that have either already integrated ENS for this or will be soon. We’re in Trust Wallet, imToken, MyCrypto, MyEtherWallet. Coinbase Wallet is adding in soon. The bitcoin.com wallet is adding it soon. Pretty much all the main wallets you’ve heard of, have signed up to use ENS. We’re the leaders in that by a long shot.
We also have native integration in the Opera browser. This is for decentralized websites which I will discuss later. We also have native integration in the [00:16:00] MetaMask Mobile app and in the status app. If you type in brantly.eth in the status app on your on your phone, it will resolve like a normal website (although it’s actually decentralized website). You can access these decentralized websites also in all the other major browsers via the MetaMask plugins. Just get the MetaMask plugin and it’ll work.
We have a partnership with Protocol Labs, which manages IPFS. We even have an ICANN-accredited registrar, EnCirca, that offers .eth names to their users and [00:16:30] will hopefully be offering other ENS products as well, so that’s incredible. We have special integrations in Truffle Suite that just launched. If you’re a developer, it makes it even easier for you to integrate ENS into your data.
Clay: Let’s kick off chapter 2, which is about how ENS works and what users can do with it. Brantly, how does ENS actually work? What does it look like under the hood?
Brantly: Okay, how ENS works. We have no servers. We do not run servers, You do not need to get access to our servers. They do not exist. [00:17:00] ENS is just smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain. That’s it entirely. You don’t need our permission to use our system. You just have to interact with the smart contracts, which operate automatically. If our organization blew up, everything would continue to run. The key thing there is it’s a different paradigm.
Why is the ENS called the Ethereum Name Service? This is another common confusion. It’s not because it’s a naming system only for the Ethereum ecosystem. Of course, we do support the Ethereum ecosystem, we support Ethereum addresses, forward and reverse resolution for that. [00:17:30]
Because it’s a naming system built on the Ethereum blockchain, we support not only Ethereum address but also all cryptocurrency addresses, decentralized websites, and Tor .onion addresses. We’re even working on traditional DNS records. We do much more than just the Ethereum ecosystem.
In traditional DNS, let’s say if I want to go to calendar.google.com, the first thing my computer has to do is it has to go to a DNS root server and say, “Hey, where do I find the [00:18:00] com servers?” It tells you. Then, you go to the com servers and you say, “Hey, where do I find the Google servers?” and it tells you. Then, you go to that and say “Hey, where do I find the calendar servers?” and it tells you. And then, you’re finally now at calendar.google.com.
ENS lookups work entirely differently. It’s all in the Ethereum blockchain. You first have to have access to the Ethereum blockchain, either as a full node locally on your own computer or somewhere else. Maybe through a service like CloudFlare or Infura. You basically say, “Hey, I have a name,” and you basically say, “and this is all for free. This is not a transaction, [00:18:30] so there’s no cost to this.” You say, “Where do I find the records for this name?” and it tells you. Then, you look up the records and that’s it. Super simple and it can be done locally if you have your own full node.
What do ENS records look like? Like any naming system, ENS can support any content. These are the things that we have in our standard records set for ENS that most people use. We have an address record type for an Ethereum address, we also then have other addresses record type [00:19:00] for any other cryptocurrency addresses. We have a content record type that can take an IPFS hash, a Swarm hash, or Tor .onion address. Then we have text records for any arbitrary information. You can put voluntary personal information or anything else you want. We also support DNS records in our standard records, although that’s not available in our manager user interface.
You can also make your own custom resolver. The reason we have that extra step of where do I find the records and then get the records is so that the records are not hard-coded into the system. [00:19:30] This is just our standard records that most people use, but you can create your own if you want. you could take this and extend it, add records to it, or just make your totally own records, that if you want, you have a special use case for ENS. That’s a powerful thing about ENS.
I’ve already talked about this a little bit. What are the top-level domains on ENS? Key concept here. There’s a conceptual distinction between a naming system and the names that run on it. We have our native top-level domain .eth, but we’ve already [00:20:00] integrated other DNS top-level domains that we’re going to be rolling out the rest of that here very soon. Really at its core, ENS is naming infrastructure that complements and expands the current Domain Name System. That’s the key thing to note here.
The goal of ENS as for any naming system is that every time a user might otherwise see a cryptocurrency address or some content hash or some computer identifier, they should instead see an ENS name. All that should be hidden in the background. Users should not even know they exist.
[00:20:30] First easiest to use case with ENS is cryptocurrency address forward resolution. What does this mean? Let’s say, I want to send somebody some Dogecoin. I type in an ENS name, the wallet grabs the correct address, and then I can send it. Forward resolution means I have a name and then I get information from that. Easiest case this works in tons of wallets right now.
We also support reverse resolution. Now, this only works for Ethereum addresses right now. We might eventually add this [00:21:00] for other addresses. What that means is that it goes the opposite way. You have an Ethereum address and you can look up to see if there is an ENS name attached to this. This is really useful for DApps. Let’s say I log into a DApp and with MetaMask, it knows my public address. Many DApps will use the public address as like the username or identifier. That is not good UI.
What the DApp can do instead is look up to see, is there an ENS name attached to this [00:21:30] and then display that instead. Now, you might still want to display the Ethereum address below it so that people can verify it or something if they want to, but that’s much better UI. That can be used for usernames. Maybe your users don’t already have an ENS name. You could offer them maybe a sub-domain, username.yourdapp.eth or something or yourdapp.xyz if you’re using that. You can use that as their username. There are projects doing this like Universal Login [00:22:00] and Othereum are both using ENS as the username.
I mentioned IPFS Swarm and Tor .onion resolution. Let’s say your MetaMask Mobile—this works right now, you can try this—you type in yourdapp.eth and then it just loads up like a normal website. We also have a project called Eth DNS which does a number of things but it’s a DNS bridge to ENS and IPFS. It’s basically a DNS server that we’ve extended to connect to ENS and IPFS.
We own eth.link [00:22:30] and we’ve set it up so that if you have an ENS and a .eth name, that has an IPFS, a content hash in the records, but you don’t have a browser or browser extension that supports that, just add that link and it will load like a normal website. you can try this right now in your browser. Go to almanit.eth.link and it will load that IPFS website like a normal website.
If you do have MetaMask in your browser, go to almanit.eth/ [00:23:00] and it will also resolve just like a normal website in your browser. This works right now. This is not theoretical. There’s maybe about 100 of these decentralized websites in the world right now. It’s still pretty early, but it’s growing all the time.
Tor .onion resolution. If you’re not familiar with the Tor community, Tor is an anonymization system for IP addresses. It lets you use the Internet without people knowing your IP address. They also have [00:23:30] their own web on .onion addresses. They have a naming problem. They don’t trust DNS because it’s centralized to provide naming for .onion. When you go to a .onion address you go to basically a long string of numbers and letters .onion.
We believe ENS solves this problem. Actually, if you have the Tor Browser, which is Firefox-based (if you have) and MetaMask enabled, go to duckduckgotor.eth and put a slash at the end, it will resolve to the .onion version [00:24:00] of DuckDuckGo. This works right now. We go on our blog and we’ve set up 10 of these. Facebook, a bunch of Tor. onion websites you can access via ENS. Much more user-friendly.
We also are working on serving traditional DNS records. The idea here is that you can maybe mirror your DNS records on ENS or maybe use IPFS to leverage that for storage. We’re actually in talks with a couple of DNS TLDs to do this right now, as we’ll be announcing and hopefully soon we’re working out some of the details. [00:24:30] Could this eventually replace the DNS infrastructure? Long term, yeah. In fact, that’s our goal. Now, that might take 20 years it’s not going to happen tomorrow.
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This Episode is Also brought to you by nexo.io. As someone who personally uses Nexo, I wanted to point out a few things that I especially like about their crypto-backed loans. The first thing is that when the price of your collateral grows, so does your credit line with Nexo. Let’s say you borrow against your Bitcoin when each is worth $5000. Over the course of your loan with Nexo, the price grows to $10,000 per Bitcoin. [00:26:30] This means that the size of your credit line with Nexo just doubled as well. You don’t have to withdraw all of it, but it’s available to you. I personally haven’t seen anyone else doing this.
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Okay, back to the show.
Brantly: We want ENS to be the naming infrastructure for the whole Internet, long-term using the current namespace. You can do your own custom records, you can use text records for new records as testing ground. You can also write up an EIP and if it makes sense, we’ll add it to our standard record sets. There’s projects doing that right now. [00:28:30] ENS is open source, it’s definitely extensible.
Clay: We’re now at chapter 3, which is a Q&A on a range of topics, including ENS competitors, more on how ENS works, future use cases and more.
How do you launch a root node for your own extension? If someone wants to use ENS to launch a .abc TLD, how would they do that?
Brantly: Good question. You can’t do that. There is no root node or something like this. [00:29:00] We could create new top-level domains on ENS, but we’ve actually publicly pledged not to do so anymore. A .eth test case, experimental testing ground, and we did it once there. We don’t want to do that anymore. The reason for that is the namespace is a social contract. When I when I say I own brantly.xyz, what that means is that the rest of the Internet [00:29:30] has agreed that I own it and they’re just not using that name. They can set their own DNS servers and start using brantly.xyz if they wanted to. What this means is that having a namespace like this requires some coordination (socially) in the world.
There’s an organization that does that. It’s a nonprofit called ICANN, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names. If you want to create a new top-level domain or extension, they have a process that you can do that. Basically, we want to follow those rules and support that. While we could create [00:30:00] 1000 top-level domains today the problem is that they would not be recognized by the rest of the Internet. You could run into what’s called the name collision problem, where the rest of the Internet, because they don’t recognize you owning that, might give that top-level domain to someone else. Now they’re giving out the same names. More than one person now owns the same name on the Internet and that’s very bad.
This is actually a differentiator that we have from other projects. Handshake, for example. Nice people, I’ve met them. They explicitly want to just replace ICANN. [00:30:30] This is likely not going to happen, but that’s what they’re trying. They’re creating tons of new top-level domains. It’s unlikely to work, but good luck to them. FIO is also creating a massive new namespace. Again, I’ve told them this is a mistake. They’re going to run into problems with the rest of the Internet. Even Unstoppable Domains started with .zil, which is legitimate. They were doing some new experimentation there, but now they just launched .crypto, which is clearly a valuable top-level domain [00:31:00] that will definitely (in my mind) be contested in ICANN, and they might lose that. They’re unnecessarily fighting the rest of the Internet.
Our philosophy is we don’t want to piss off the rest of the Internet. We want to work with them and go through the processes and support the current namespace. That’s what we want to do.
Clay: How would you step-by-step go about securing an ENS domain name? Say, I wanted [00:31:30] to purchase firstnamelastname.ens. What’s the simplest way for a layperson to go about making this happen?
Brantly: Great question. I’ll make it really simple. Go to our manager, which you can find at app.dns.domains or manager.ens.domains (will redirect to app.dns.domains), just type in the name you want, and follow the steps there. Super simple to do. You can get it in about a minute or two. That’s the easiest way to get a .eth name. [00:32:00]
If you have, let’s say a .xyz name and you want to claim the corresponding ENS record brantly.xyz not brantly.eth but brantly.xyz, just go to our app and type in brantly.xyz or whatever your .xyz name is. And there’s a set of steps you can follow to claim it.
Clay: In a nutshell, go to manager.ens.domains, follow the process there, and you can purchase your domain name. Is that correct?
Clay: How does [00:32:30] ENS work for non-Ethereum assets? You mentioned that these addresses can be connected to wallet. Is the connection at the wallet layer? In other words, if someone wants to send Dogecoin to somebody.xyz, then that domain name resolves to a unique identifier that’s connected to a specific wallet? That’s how it happens or is there something else occurring here? [00:33:00]
Brantly: All that happens is that you have to store a cryptocurrency address for each cryptocurrency you want to be able to see with your name in your ENS records. When somebody types in brantly.xyz they want to send Dogecoin, the wallet connects to ENS, grabs the Dogecoin address, brings it back to the wallet, and the wallet sends the transaction on the Dogecoin network. All ENS does is just the lookup process. It’s just storing the information. [00:33:30] That’s why we can have IPFS hashes, we can have Dogecoin addresses, we can have DNS records. We can store any information.
Clay: And if somebody, let’s say they’ve gone to manager.ens.domains, they’ve purchased a domain name, and they want to associate multiple public keys for various blockchains to that domain name, how is that done? How might a layperson set that up? Or do you need a wallet as an interface to do this? [00:34:00] Or can you do this directly from manager.ens.domains?
Brantly: Great question. Yeah, you just do it at our manager, and you have to be using an Ethereum-enabled browser like MetaMask. You have to have an Ethereum wallet with Ether, because the way it works is basically you have to submit transactions that may then store that information in your ENS record.
So, I have to have an Ethereum wallet and Ether [00:34:30] to submit the transaction, pay the transaction fee to store the Dogecoin address on ENS. Now our plan, our hope is that on the wallet side, that fact that you’re using Ethereum can be abstracted away from the user. Hopefully, the user, say how it was set this address, and the wallet just handles the Ethereum part for them in the background. But for our manager, you have to be able to use Ethereum to do it. [00:35:00]
Clay: Got it. What happens if all of a sudden ICANN or whoever is in charge of preventing collision, revokes your .eth status?
Brantly: We don’t have a status with .eth with ICANN. .eth is actually in an interesting place because it’s not being used. Years ago ICANN reserved not only two-letter [00:35:30] country code codes as top-level domains, it also reserved three-letter country codes. Two-letter country codes you’ve probably seen before like .us, .uk, .fr, .hk, things like this. Those were given to the countries and the countries managed their own what are called ccTLD (Country Code Top-Level Domains).
They reserved these three-letter country codes, but they didn’t give them to the country. They wanted to make sure these were never used at some future points. It just turns out [00:36:00] that .eth is reserved as a three-letter country code for Ethiopia. So, nobody can register .eth in the ICANN process, but it’s not being used. It’s not clear that they’re ever going to give those things out.
Right now, we’ve been in communication, actually, with Ethiopia and with ICANN, and we’d like to eventually have .eth officially brought into the ICANN system. There’s a couple different possible methods for that, but right now it’s not. If for some reason [00:36:30] ICANN became antagonistic with us, that would be bad. We don’t want that. We probably just still keep functioning. ENS is open source, it’s a smart contract, so it’s going to live on even if they like shut down our organization, because we don’t run it. We just manage the code.
But I don’t expect that because we have a very good relationship with ICANN and we’re actually doing work with them. For example, they just recently contracted with us to do a research project with the Office of CTO of ICANN. We actually have a very positive relationship with them. [00:37:00]
Clay: I’d like to dig into this a little bit further. You mentioned that one of the differentiators between ENS and Handshake is that Handshake wants to replace ICANN. That made me assume that .eth was registered with ICANN. Can you speak to what differentiates you? The main differentiators.
Brantly: There are three levels to the domain name system on the Internet. In fact. I had some great conversations [00:37:30] with the Handshake team at the most recent ICANN conference, actually, just a few weeks ago. We talked about this. Here’s our perspective on it. There’s three different levels, there’s three different network effects. There’s the network effect of the tech stack that Internet naming uses. There’s a network effect on the namespace that the naming system is using, like who owns what names? Like Google owns google.com and Brantly brantlymillegan.com. And then there’s the network effect [00:38:00] on the social process by which new names are allocated.
These are all three separate things. They don’t have to be bundled. They are separate. Now could all three of those be improved? Of course. If you talk to anybody at ICANN, they’d say, “Could the process by which new names are allocated be improved?” Almost everybody would agree with you. But the point is that is a social coordination problem, not primarily a technological problem. It’s just what people agree is the process. Our approach is we just want to [00:38:30] upgrade the tech stack of the domain of naming on the Internet. That’s what we want to do.
Handshake, though, has decided that they not only want to upgrade the tech stack, at least for management of the DNS root, they want to simultaneously challenge the social process by which new names are allocated. That doesn’t have to be done at the same time, but they’re choosing to do that. That’s really, really hard to do to change that social process, much harder than upgrading the tech stack (as hard as that is). [00:39:00] But by bundling the success of their technology to also succeeding on winning the social battle, they’re making it more likely that their whole project just fails.
Our approach is, let’s unbundle these problems and let’s see if we can just upgrade the tech stack. Maybe we can fix these other problems later. Let’s do that. I think that is a much easier thing to do. Handshake is explicitly trying to challenge it. I think they’re going to fail. but good luck to them. If they succeed, congratulations. [00:39:30]
Unstoppable domains are basically a for-profit copycat of ENS. They do everything that ENS does but less, and they have an order of magnitude less ecosystem support. It works hardly anywhere. They’re VC-backed and there’s a couple different issues here. One, we just fundamentally think that naming is infrastructure and should not be owned by a private company, by VCs. If you want the future of wallet naming and Internet naming to be [00:40:00] owned by a VC company, go with Unstoppable Domains. If you think it should be run by a nonprofit, that’s open source, that’s owned by the community, you should go with ENS. That’s a huge differentiator.
We also have an order of magnitude way more integration. We have 100 different wallets and DApps that have already integrated with ENS. They have like five. They also have a totally different approach to ICANN. Like I said with .eth, this was a special case. It was experimental [00:40:30] test case. We’re not going to create any more top-level domains, even though we could probably bring in tons of revenue doing so. We want to simply just integrate the DNS namespace and expand the functionality for that for free. We don’t we don’t make any money from the DNS namespace on ENS.
Unstoppable Domains, because they’re a for-profit business, their business model is that they make money from selling names, they need to get a return to their investors. They not only create .zo, which again there is some legitimacy to that of they were doing some new things [00:41:00] with technology at that time. But now, they’ve created a second new top-level domain outside of the ICANN process, .crypto, that is totally illegitimate, will not be recognized by ICANN. ICANN’s not going to give them a freebie there. They will almost certainly end up having an expensive fight if they win it or they may lose it with the rest of the Internet.
Now, we think this is irresponsible for two reasons. One, it unnecessarily pisses off the rest of the Internet, which makes it less likely that they will adopt blockchain technology. [00:41:30] Let’s not fight when we don’t have to. The second thing is that we think it’s irresponsible to users.
Let’s say two years from now, somebody else goes through the normal ICANN process and registers .crypto on DNS, and then they start selling the name Sue. you will now have different people that own the same names on the Unstoppable Domain system or on the DNS. Now, you have the name collision problem. Because DNS is way more widely used, it could render [00:42:00] basically all these people who bought these .crypto names from Unstoppable Domains just useless.
Now, Unstoppable Domains still has all the money and it’s not clear to me that users who are buying these names really understand that Unstoppable Domain doesn’t really have a right to this (and likely won’t), and this is not going to be accepted by the rest of the Internet. That is a massive differentiator we have there.
Similar deal with FIO. I know these people, nice people. They’re taking the approach of, rather than just using the existing namespace, they’re creating tons of new top-level domains. [00:42:30] They think it’s different because they have a different separator symbol. They use a colon rather than a period. I think that’s a distinction without a difference and this is not going to be accepted by the rest of the Internet, I think.
Clay: Just so I understand the .crypto argument, which sounded like a compelling one, basically there’s a difference, if I understand this correctly, between .eth which could potentially conflict with [00:43:00] TLD for the country of Ethiopia and .crypto which is something that basically people who get ICANN approval has to go through a specific process. For someone to stake a land grab on something as important as .crypto, you think it’s not gonna fly long-term and that eventually that’s going to get shut down. How is that different from .eth in Ethiopia?
Brantly: It’s not going to get shut down. It’s just that they may give the name to somebody else. That’s the thing. With .eth, nobody [00:43:30] can reserve it right now. And again, I think .zil could have been in a similar similar state because they were doing some genuinely new technology with it. You have to have a space for innovation, basically.
With .zil and .eth, there’s a space for innovation .crypto, though, there’s no innovation with it. It’s entirely just there staking out a claim on something they don’t really have and making money selling the names to users who don’t understand.
Now. there’s a process, actually, even outside of the [00:44:00] ICANN process, with the IETF, and other organization. You can get top-level domains reserved if there’s some special use case for them. .onion was reserved through this process and we’re going to attempt to do the same thing with .eth likely. There’s an argument because there was a technological innovation reason for this existing. .zil maybe could do something similar. .crypto, there’s no chance of that.
Clay: I think about someone doing .eth and someone potentially could come by at some point and do a .btc. [00:44:30] I could see the Bitcoin community being relatively up in arms over that. It seems like you guys have gotten adoption from the test makers, thought leaders, and project leaders in the Ethereum space. No one’s really taken offense at you taking the domain name that has the symbol of the token that powers of the Ethereum network. That seems fairly promising.
Brantly: Oh yeah.
Clay: I want to ask a little bit about [00:45:00] revenue and money. The domain name space is much like the crypto space in that it has a reputation. There’s a lot of land grab, there’s a lot of new TLDs coming out every single week. It does appear that what you say is true here, that it’s a nonprofit, you’re funded by donations, grants and things like that. Would you mind just walking through the revenue sources [00:45:30] of the company that employs you?
Brantly: Absolutely. The primary revenue source has been grants, mostly from the Ethereum Foundation. We’ve also received some smaller grants from a few other organizations, but EF has been the main one. This is another important issue. When you get a .eth name, you have to pay a yearly fee. Those yearly fees we’ve done it by length of the name. If it’s five characters and greater, it’s US$5 a year paid in Ether.
You can also pay [00:46:00] just ahead if you want. You can pay $50 and own it for 10 years and you can forget about it. For four character names, it’s much more expensive. It’s $160 a year. Three character names is really expensive. It’s $640 a year. We don’t have one and two character names available yet.
The reason it gets more expensive is because shorter names are much more rare because there’s far fewer of them. It gets exponentially more names the longer you get. Basically, the idea is if you’re gonna have a short really short name you better be using it well or else you should just get rid of it, [00:46:30] release it, let someone else try to have a good use for it, and just get a longer name.
Now, why do we have any fees at all? This is a common question. You have to have fees to prevent name squatting. You have to have a limiting factor for people owning the number of names they do. If you had no fees, The first person to use ENS could register 10 million names and they owned every name. Now, they could either just not use it, in which case [00:47:00] the .eth name space is useless, nobody can use it. Or they start renting them out to people.
I used to have to rent anyway, except now it’s going to this random middleman who just happened to get there first. We have to have fees basically to say, “If you’re not using this name getting value out of it, then release it so that someone else can.” We think $5 a year for most names is super cheap. That’s less than half of what goes to normal DNS names, and we don’t have the infrastructure cost that DNS providers do, so it should be cheaper. [00:47:30]
That is not enough to stop illegitimate users, but enough to stop a huge, large-scale squatting. If you have 20,000 names, it’s going to cost you $100,000 a year to keep that. It’s super important.
The next question is, “Well, where does that money go?” We talked about this in the community, in our forum for many months about a year ago and there’s options. We could just have it automatically burned. We could do that, that’s an option. Or we could use the Ether [00:48:00] to fund things.
What we decided to do is it goes through a […] of representatives of the of the Ethereum community, only one of which are on the ENS team (Nick Johnson), and they can allocate the ether to ultimately however they want. The idea is that they will allocate to support the ongoing maintenance of ENS.
If there’s more money than we need for that then maybe other projects. Some people have even thought if this ends up bringing in [00:48:30] huge amounts of money long-term, this could even fund Ethereum Protocol Development long-term. So, we’ll see.
Right now, most of it is probably going to come to our organization, just to fund the ongoing development of that. A key thing to know, of course, is that we never did an ICO, we have no investors, we have no stockholders. We have been trying to build the system, to maximize what’s needed just for it to function, rather than trying to make enough money to pay back investors. [00:49:00] That’s basically where our many sources are.
Clay: In a nutshell there’s grants that you receive and then there’s registration fees which goes to a 407 multisig and people make decisions about what to do with that. But thus far most of that is going back into funding the development of ENS.
Clay: Is it possible to build an ID app solution with .eth?
Brantly: Absolutely. Right now with text records, [00:49:30] we actually allow people to put personal information if they want to into the records. Like if you go to brantly.eth, you can see my Twitter handle, a link to an avatar for me, and whatever other information I want to put there. We’ve also had interest from Three Box, which is another personal identity project to have a special ENS record for their IDs to access their information. That will hopefully get done soon. There’s another Project Everest which is doing some similar things. [00:50:00] Absolutely, ENS names and not just .eth names but any name on ENS, .xyz, or anything else could absolutely become the face of your Ethereum online identity.
Clay: If you were a VC or just someone who wanted to back a project that is built on top of ENS, what would it be? I guess let’s just say, if you benevolently had a few million to throw around for good causes, that monopolized [00:50:30] on the best opportunities that exist, now that this technology is out there, open source, and available to everyone, what would you have commissioned?
Brantly: Interesting and for good causes. If someone gave me a couple of million dollars, if you’re looking for a for-profit thing, I don’t know. I have to think about it. There’s lots of work to be done with ENS, so one one idea is I would pay the gas for a wallet to give all of their users a free sub-domain.
We have […] actually already do this. [00:51:00] Urgent does this, MyEtherWallet you can claim a sub-domain and maybe if Coinbase wanted to username.coinbase.com as the ENS names. They have a huge number of users that would costs not insignificant gas for them to do that. I would help them out and pay the gas fees to help them do that, and get hundreds of thousands if not millions of people and all these major wallets set up on ENS. That’s something I would definitely do.
[00:51:30] There’s tons of projects to extend the usefulness of the ENS that we could do. We have these DNS records projects. I would love it if DNS registrars made it so that you have just a one-click tool, if you own a DNS name to claim the ENS record for it. If I have brantly.com, I click a button and now I have the ENS record for it and it’s all done for me. Right now, it’s tricky to do if that was made automatic. I would love that huge business opportunity there because you can charge for that. [00:52:00] Registrars can charge about $5 to claim your ENS record.
Clay: I’ve long desired to create an uncensorable and unstoppable blog. Something like Medium except something that I know for sure can be around for posterity, maybe it’s a journal that I want my grandkids, great-grandchildren, and great-great-great-grandchildren to be able to read. It’s not certain that Medium is going to be around forever, [00:52:30] that WordPress is going to be around forever. What kind of stack would you recommend for making this happen?
Brantly: It’s the decentralized web. ENS for decentralized naming system and IPFS as a peer-to-peer file storage network. Basically, you host it on IPFS and use ENS to access it. You can do this right now. There’s about 100 such websites.
Clay: I totally know about these technologies. Is there a service that allows you to spin up a blog on IPFS? [00:53:00] Like if you’re a non-developer, if you’re a fairly technical non-programmer, are there DIY tools for doing this or do you need to code it up yourself?
Brantly: It’d be hard right now, unfortunately. That’s another business opportunity. There are at least two—there’s probably more—companies I can think of that actually make it really easy to store things in IPFS. It’s pinata.cloud and also temporal.cloud. I’ve actually been in [00:53:30] touch with them and we’re trying to make it easier.
Temporal is integrating ENS into their websites that if you upload something to IPFS you can put it in your ENS records right away. We’re also looking to maybe getting their stuff integrated onto our side. We’re trying to make it easier but there’s a huge opportunity to make that easier for people.
Clay: Incredibly exciting stuff. Let’s maybe ask the last question. [00:54:00] Can you speak a little bit to domain names that are owned by contracts and what the possibilities are in that realm?”
Brantly: You can, for example—many people do this—let’s say I get example.eth. I give control of that to a contract, such that now, people meet certain conditions, they can claim a subdomain off that automatically. I mentioned earlier how you can have names that nobody controls or that only can be changed under certain circumstances. [00:54:30] You could have a name owned by a dow and you have names that maybe change ownership based on other things that happen on Ethereum. There is a whole area that is enabled by ENS, that you cannot do with DNS. I also think it’s fascinating and is still open to be explored. There’s more opportunity.
Clay: In terms of exchanges and how ENS domains can be exchanged potentially through an exchange, can we just think of these as [00:55:00] non-fungible assets? Like a crypto kitty is a domain name essentially the same thing? It does seem like there’s a possibility of a traditional exchange with not necessarily an order book, but an exchange that operates in a very similar fashion to exchanges for non-fungible assets. Is that the correct way to think about exchange for these types of domains?
Brantly: Yeah. .eth names are NFT ERC-721 compliant. [00:55:30] They plug into any or all of these NFT markets. It’s like OpenSea, Emoon, you can trade and you can do anything with a .eth name that you can do with any other NFT.
Clay: Well that concludes my conversation with Brantly Millegan from Ethereum Name Service. I hope you enjoyed it.
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