Simplifying the Lives of Web Users
By DAVID POGUE August 18, 2010
I'm about to make your life better. No need to thank me.
But first, a warning: On the way to understanding how your life will get better, you'll have to read about some technical, fairly arcane topics. Trust me: it'll be worth it.
In this case, the topic is your Web browsing, and the magic wand is a free service called OpenDNS.
You know how every Web site has an address, likeor Turns out that's just a fakeout. It's a convenient crutch for you, the human with limited brain capacity.
Behind the scenes, the actual address is a string of numbers (called an I.P. address, for Internet protocol) that looks something like this: 18.104.22.168. (That happens to be Google's address.)
Nobody can remember those addresses, though they are no longer than a phone number, so the Web's thoughtful designers came up with a secondary system: plain-English addresses likeWhen you type that into your browser, a computer at your Internet provider performs a quick lookup. "Aha," it says to itself in its little digital way, "you just typed What you really want, of course, is 22.214.171.124. Please hold; I'll connect you."
That, in a nutshell, is how D.N.S. works. (It stands for domain name system, in case that helps.)
Unfortunately, from time to time, your Internet provider's D.N.S. computer goes down. To you, it seems that the Web itself has gone out, because you can't pull up any sites at all. In December 2008, for example, 1.2 million Los Angeles citizens thought that the entire Web had gone offline, because of a crashed Time Warner D.N.S. computer.
...***** Moderator's Note *****
DNS does not says "Please hold; I'll connect you." It says "Here's the real, numerical address for the site you wanted", and the rest is up to you, or actually, to your computer, which uses the IP address provided by DNS to access the site you wanted.
The way Mr. Pogue gushes about this rather pedestrian innovation, you'd think he was usurping Al Gore's position as Inventor of the Internet. For all the supposedly great features that the OpenDNS company offers, there is a hidden, and high, price: they get to collect your IP address, and to keep track of every site that you visit. That information, which is easily linked to your actual name and address, can be used to accomplish a wide and frightening variety of tasks: everything from shaming you about your membership in to telling your boss that you've been visiting sites about childbirth - or cancer treatment.
Be careful what you recommend, Mr. Pogue. Internauts have long memories.
Bill Horne Moderator