This article was written by Keith Dawson for Boston.com's DigitalMASS Internet column. It is archived here for informational purposes only because it no longer appears on the DigitalMASS site. This material is Copyright 2000 by Boston.com.


Domain name fashion extends beyond basic black

Keith Dawson
2000-02-02
If you want a poster child for competition's beneficial effects on a formerly monopolized market, look no farther than the business of registering domain names. Since competitors arrived on the scene last year, prices have dropped, choice has exploded, and service has blossomed.

Not so long ago, if you wanted to register a domain name these were your choices:

  • You could go to any registrar you liked as long as it was Network Solutions, Inc.
  • You paid upfront for two years' registration ($70), then renewed annually ($35).
  • You (or your Web host) corresponded with NSI only through cumbersome email forms.
  • You waited two or three days, and sometimes much longer, for a new name to get into the master names database.
  • Your name could be up to 22 characters long before the .com.
  • Your name could not include any "rude" words.
  • You got no discount for registering many names.

Since the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has taken over management of domain names -- after a contentious, years-long birthing process -- competition has been established and new user choices are appearing daily. Twenty-five registrars are operating now in competition with the former monopoly registrar, NSI. (NSI still runs the database that all the registrars share.) Another 85 registrars are in the pipeline for accreditation. Some of the operational registrars, for example CORE, are composite entities with scores of members, all independently offering domain-name registration services. Most registrars will activate a new name instantly after credit-card payment via a secure Web form.

Here are some of the choices and new services opening up from all this competition.

Bulk pricing. Bulknames.com is one of several registrars that caters specifically to high-volume clients such as large ISPs. eNom offers a sliding price scale down to $15 per name depending on quantity of names registered. And TUCOWS, which started out life as a Winsock shareware site, runs the OpenSRS project, offering wholesale domain names at $10 per name per year.

Long names. I'm not sure why NSI used to restrict names to 22 characters -- the standard defining Internet names allows up to 63. By late last year some registries had tweaked their software to accept registration of 63-character names. This Hawaiian outfit has set up business under what it claims is the longest word in the English language as a magnet to register long domain names. (In point of fact, English has no longest word.)

Rude names. Until CORE opened up the field, you couldn't register names containing any of the Seven Dirty Words -- the words that an FCC guideline and subsequent Supreme Court ruling banned from over-the-air broadcasts in the US. CORE is headquartered outside this country, and many of its member registrars apparently feel no obligation to abide by parochial US judicial pronouncements. Recently a registrar set up shop to sell email addresses based on some very in-yer-face domain names. No, I'm not going to provide a link.

Flexible renewal terms. All registrars require payment for at least one year when you sign up for a domain name, but many of them now let you lock in your rate for up to 10 years.

Here are a couple of recent attempted "improvements" to domain-name choice that didn't work out.

Hyphen at the end of a name. Last November some entrepreneurs noticed that a few registrars (five, to be exact) were allowing names ending in a hyphen (free registration and cookies required for this site). This was a mistake in both the registrars' and NSI's software; such names have never been legal. 856 such names, including microsoft-.com and yahoo-.com, had been registered before ICANN noticed and closed the loophole. The bogus registrations were cancelled.

Accented characters in a name. Acting alone, one country-code registry began developing its software to register names incorporating European-language accented characters. Here are some examples. This turns out to be a spectacularly bad idea -- Web sites using the new names would be invisible and unreachable from much of the Net. The Internet Engineering Task Force has now set up a study group to figure out how to do internationalized domain names right.