Today, Google, along with a group of DNS and content providers, including Neustar/UltraDNS, published a proposal to extend the DNS (domain name server) protocol. DNS is the system that translates URLs for humans (e.g., ReadWriteWeb.com) into numeric IP addresses used by all computers for online communication.
To be perfectly explicit, Google is proposing "to allow Authoritative Nameservers to return varying replies based upon the network address of the client that initiated the query rather than of the client's Recursive Resolver." If that made no sense to you, read on for a plain-English discussion of the issue at hand and what it means for users.
Last month, when Google launched a public DNS service, they described DNS protocols simply, saying, "Most of us aren't familiar with DNS because it's often handled automatically by our Internet Service Provider (ISP), but it provides an essential function for the web. You could think of it as the switchboard of the Internet, converting easy-to-remember domain names - e.g., www.google.com - into the unique Internet Protocol (IP) numbers - e.g., 220.127.116.11 - that computers use to communicate with one another."
What Google's proposing is that enough information be sent during these machine/network communications to optimize browsing speed by creating connections with topologically close servers, but not so much information as to violate users' privacy. In other words, by gathering enough data about a user's location in a network, the system can then optimize that connection to have as few degrees of separation as possible between the user and the host.
Wilmer van der Gaast and Carlo Contavalli wrote on behalf of the Google Public DNS team, "Our proposed DNS protocol extension lets recursive DNS resolvers include part of your IP address in the request sent to authoritative nameservers. Only the first three octets, or top 24 bits, are sent providing enough information to the authoritative nameserver to determine your network location, without affecting your privacy."
The proposal was posted today and might be accepted as an official Internet standard within the next few months. "We plan to continue working with all interested parties on implementing this solution and are looking forward to a healthy discussion on the dnsext mailing list," the team concluded.
This relates pretty closely to the stated goals of Google's Speed project, which aims to make users' browsing experience faster overall. Internet protocols have been part of the Speed plan from its inception more than six months ago.