It is a common misunderstanding to exclusively associate blockchain technology with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The technology itself offers already a wide range of services like decentralized messaging services, marketplaces and – importantly – decentralized domain names, which cannot be censored or taken down completely. Imagine payments could be universally shared and owners have full control over their domain asset.

You might ask yourself "What is so special about this?" A simple answer is: the internet of today is broken. We can use the internet, but we do not own anything we do. Here are a few reason why:

  1. Registrars are mandatory custodians of centralized domains like .com or .net.
  2. Registries can revoke domains or be taken down
  3. Hosting services can take content offline entirely, not just off their service platform

For the first time in history with the creation of blockchain networks like Ethereum, Filecoin and others there are new possibilities in regards of ownership and control. On the contrary, blockchain domains are not only decentralized but also secured using cryptographic encryption. They represent a new class of assets that truly belong to the owner, and not to a third party or central authority.

This has several advantages, both for the asset owners and their users – these include:

  • (Real) Ownership: The owner has a private key to their domain, so the domain will be entirely under their control. Current solutions are not governed by and do not require approval from e.g. ICANN.
  • Censorship-resistant: A blockchain domain also makes a website censorship-resistant for the owner, as private keys should be stored in a (ideally non-custodial) wallet to which only the owner has the keys. No third-party can interfere with or disable the site without the private keys.
  • Replace cryptocurrency addresses with human-readable names: A blockchain domain replaces the need for copying and pasting rather cryptic wallet addresses and at the same time simplifies sending and receiving payments dramatically. The domains become payment gateways by attaching a cryptocurrency wallet address to a domain name; giving users the chance to send or pay money.
  • Transfer speed: Blockchain domains do not require an escrow agent to securely exchange the domain or funds. This transfer can happen in less than 1 minute, from or to anywhere in the world.

Ethereum Name Services

Nick Johnson and Alex Van de Sande of the Ethereum Foundation initially conceptualized the ENS (Ethereum Name Service).

It offers a names system on Blockchain that integrates with the traditional DNS, unlike some of its competitors, ENS does not want to replace DNS. Additionally the system provides a secure and decentralized way to address different resources using human-readable names. Instead of sending someones ETH to 0xa4edd4f3b6a3f15ecce4b73fd9a196cffc7d28ad, a user can simply send to axelquack.eth.
Lastly, another excellent property that ENS possesses is its interoperability with the rest of the Ethereum ecosystem. ENS can interact with all Ethereum-based smart contracts. One contract records all the domains and subdomains, as well the owner's details and the link to the Resolver, which is another smart contract that handles the translations from names to addresses or other types of resources and vice-versa.

It should be noted that ENS has an annual fee for an .eth domain. This fee is about 5 EUR/year for available domains of "normal length", payable in corresponding ETH value. Even though this might not sound expensive, but one should not forget that the provider can change the fee at any time. Since the user cannot simply move the domain to another provider, this is already a point that might be a disadvantage.

If you are using a browser like Brave or even Chrome, the MetaMask browser extension will give you support. For example, if you are using Chrome with MetaMask, enter "http://almonit.eth" into the URL bar and a website search engine will be loaded.

Unstoppable Domains (.crypto/.zil)

Unstoppable Domains was born in 2018 of Brad Kam's desire to "build something at the intersection of tech and policy". Kam studied politics before he met co-founder Matthew Gould while working at his first startup, Talkable, a SaaS marketing platform. The startup is backed by Draper Associates & Boost VC and also received grants from the Ethereum Foundation and the Zilliqa Foundation.

Users can connect with crypto domains such as .zil (live on the Zilliqa blockchain) or .crypto (live on Ethereum), to get paid as an example. All someone needs to know is their blockchain domain.
The difference is that .zil domains are stored on and process transactions through the Zilliqa blockchain which has low fees. In contrast, .crypto domains are stored on and process transactions through the Ethereum blockchain. Both are capable of pointing to multiple cryptocurrency wallet addresses (for payments) and censorship-resistant website content.

The exciting thing about Unstoppable Domains: A user really buys the domain. Once the domain has been paid for and ended up in a wallet (there is for instance a simple way to store your domains within Coinbase Wallet, Atomic Wallet and so on – but also the possibility to store in hardware wallets), nobody can take it away from the owner. Furthermore, there are no further costs. That puts the somewhat higher initial costs into perspective quickly. 40 USD are payable for a .crypto domain, 20 USD are payable for .zil domains. Another option is payment by PayPal or Credit Card.

There are multiple ways to access .crypto domains browsers with native support for decentralized websites include Brave (desktop version), Opera (mobile), Status (mobile), MetaMask Mobile (mobile), and Unstoppable Browser (desktop). Besides that it is always possible to install an official Chrome or Mozilla extension to access websites built on p2p networks like IPFS. The company itself offers a template marketplace and upload functionalities which are interconnected with Pinata.

In May 2020 Unstoppable Domains mentioned they have 200K+ domains registered, 4K+ IPFS websites launched, 12K+ unique Ethereum addresses that own domains just to share some of their key facts. Possible future functionalities mentioned were support of Decentralized Databases like OrbitDB or GUN alongside paid hosting.

Final thoughts

Decentralized systems, which do not require a central mediator to function, were already around at the time the Web was invented. Most notably, the Internet was increasingly gaining traction as a large-scale decentralized network. The rise of Blockchain Domains enables not only censorship-resistance, or a shift towards self-ownership, but also simplifies payments with crypto that could drive further adoption of digital assets.

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