Web Informant #187, 4 February 2000:
The DotCom People

http://www.strom.com/awards/187.html

We have entered a new era for dot-com fever. IPOs from net companies continue to come to market daily. Amazon states higher losses and its stock climbs. The rights to domains like loans.com and business.com sell for millions. Ford putting a PC in every employee's home. AOL buying CNN-Comedy Channel-Cartoon Network-HBO-Warner Brothers-New Line-WB-Atlantic-Maverik-Elektra-Sire-Rhino-Time Warner Cable-DC Comics-Time-Sports-Illustrated-Time Warner Books-Book of the Month Club-Road Runner-moviefone.com-CDNow-People-Entertainment Weekly-Cher-Madonna-Jewel.

Yet with all this hype, there is still a lot of very expensive noise: Half the dot-coms advertising during the Super Bowl were ones I never heard of. I used to be able to read all the press releases coming my way about new Internet companies: who has the time anymore? Even my daughter's grade-school teacher tries to quiet down his class by saying "WWW SSSHUSH DOT COM."

Soon it won't be long before some enterprising soul comes up with a completely automated process to register a new domain name, setup your initial web site, submit your request for venture capital financing and use the proceeds to produce some ridiculous 30-second radio and TV commercial, all for one price and charged to your credit card.

I remember the simple days, back in 1990, when it was illegal for most people to have a dot-com, let alone any kind of Internet identity. When we setup Network Computing magazine, we wanted to provide Internet email addresses for our editors and staff. The easiest way to do so was through a link to a university. We were ahead of our time, to be sure.

These days, as my friend Mike Azzara says on his web site (naturally, www.azzara.com), everyone can be master of their own domain name, including my wife, who registered two over the weekend.

Until recently, if you wanted a dot-com address, you could only go to one place in the world to get it -- Network Solutions. They charged $70 for two years, and your name (apart from the dot-com) could be no longer than 22 characters. They had been granted this charter by our government, back long ago just after Al Gore invented the Internet. (I'm kidding.) But these simple and monopolistic days are quickly coming to an end.

The first sign of competition were the rise of registrars (as they are called) for two-letter country domains. Originally, the dot-coms were supposed to be a small corner of cyberspace, with everyone else picking a domain name that matched their country of origin, such as .us, .uk, .au or .ca, just to name a few. Then some enterprising folks working with a representative of a small country figured out a way to make money by charging less than Network Solutions to set up domain names with appealing endings, such as .tv, .cc, .nu (nu is Swedish for "new") and others. Given that Niue (the place that got .nu) is a remote South Pacific island, the chances of your domain being taken were slim. Oddly, the "company" who handles Niue registrations is based outside of Boston, and they have registered thousands of domain names over the past several years. Capitalism is a wonderful thing to see.

Now Network Solutions has competition for registering the dot-coms too. Over a dozen companies, including many from outside the US, can register and even host your domain for you. You can register for a single year or up to ten years at a time. And longer domain names, up to 63 characters, can be registered (although some browsers can't deal with them). There are two lists where you can check out the new registrars -- ICANN and CORE.

When my wife wanted to reserve her little bit of cyberspace I took a look at several dozen of these registrars. I found a confusing state of affairs. Most of the registrars don't do a very good job about describing their prices or services on their web sites. For example, one place offers a nice come-on fee of $15 per year for registering your name. But then it tacks on additional charges for attaching this name to a domain name server, something that is required in order for anyone else on the Internet to find your site. Another site promises domains for free, but isn't yet up and running!

Most of the new registrars are charging somewhere between $25 and $35 a year to register domains, which is surprisingly similar to what Network Solutions charges. While the prices haven't yet really seen the effects of competition, it is still early, with many of these companies still setting up their registration processes. This may not be the best time to go shopping for registration services, as an article in News.com states. Some people have had problems using the newer, bargain-priced providers.

There are some advantages to using the competitors, though. If English isn't your native language, several of the registrars have pages in other languages to guide you through the process. And they can be easier to deal with than Network Solutions.

So what did my wife and I do when it came time to register her domains? We ended up using Register.com, for several reasons.

First, I wanted to give them a chance at my business and see how they did. Given that we didn't have any existing web content to worry about it seemed like a low risk. Second, they have the ability to forward names to existing web servers. And third, they have been around the longest of any of the competitors, and just do domain names. Some of the other registrars also provide hosting services. While this sounds appealing from a one-stop shopping model, I think hosting requires a whole different set of skills from handling the name services.

But perhaps the most important reason was a recent piece of email from Network Solutions, addressed to me as Dear David Jacobs and promising a 15% rebate if I renewed my domain names before February 18. I figured if Network Solutions can't even get its spam, err, registration database in order, it was time to give the competition a chance.

Self-promotions dep't

I have high praise in my review of Microsoft's IIS version 5, which comes included with the Windows 2000 Server versions. It can be found on Internet.com's ServerWatch site.

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David Strom
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+1 (516) 944-3407
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