Mar 112001
 
Part of the Deciphering Domains Series - Previous in series         

The Bottom Line There is more than one DNS system out there and this article takes a look at the true alternative domain resources.

All of the other articles in this series have made statements based on the TLDs approved by ICANN. For the vast majority of internet users these are the only TLDs they will ever encounter. However, there are alternatives out there. This article will examine these alternatives.

DNS and You

DNS servers are essentially computers attached to the internet that store directories connecting domain names (such as http://www.philaahzophy.com) to IP addresses (such as 238.18.56.129) which are essentially uniques addresses for each computer connected to the internet. ICANN is the organization that maintains these DNS servers and is responsible for approving the standardized systems that makes the internet truly global.

You are able to find your way around the internet largely thanks to the DNS (Domain Name System) server used by your ISP. You have little to no control over which DNS servers your ISP uses, but this generally doesn’t matter as most use one of the 13 root DNS servers approved and maintained (to at least some degree) by ICANN. All of these share the same information on which domain names direct you to which IP addresses. Of course, this does limit you to the TLDs approved by ICANN (currently the seven gTLDs and the 237 ccTLDs).

If you were to enter the URL http://abc.news into your web browser you would receive a message stating that “The page cannot be displayed” or something similar.
This is because ICANN has not yet approved the .news TLD. In fact, they aren’t even considering it at this time. However, I assure you that not only is there a web page there, but it is possible to access it. You simply need to use an alternative DNS system.

Alternative DNS Background

Since the creation of the internet debates have raged over which TLDs to permit (or even whether or not these should be limited). The TLDs that are now considered standard (.com, .net, etc) quickly gained dominance, but have never had universal acceptance. There have always been nay-sayers and rebels who have wanted to do things there own way and one of the most glorious things about the internet is that this is possible. Hence, the alternative DNS systems.

Alternative DNS servers are created and maintained by individuals or companies interested in expanding the number of TLDs available to internet users. Almost all alternative DNS servers contain the same information available in ICANN approved root servers, but also contain information for additional TLDs.

How Alternative DNS Works

Essentially, to use an alternative DNS system you must change which DNS servers your computer looks to when resolving domain names. There are two ways to do this:

1)Convince your ISP to use use the alternative DNS you are interested in.

2)Download software from the DNS home page that will redirect your browser to the appropriate DNS servers.

Benefits

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

The primary benefit of using alternative DNS servers is the wider selection of Top Level Domains. Depending on which alternative DNS you select, you will be offered between four and 550 new TLDs. In fact one alternative DNS (Name.Space) allows anyone to create their own TLD at will.

With the internet ‘land’ rush of recent years many prime domain names have already been registered. Using the TLDs available through alternative DNS systems allows greater opportunity for registering an easy to remember domain name.

The Cool Factor

If you’re interested in being truly cutting edge, then alternative DNS servers may be just the thing for you. Just imagine how awed your friends will be when you’re the first geek on your node to host your website at http://music.mp3 or http://porn.xxx

Fight The Power

If you just have to rebel, then perhaps this is the way to do it. ICANN has been accused of being far too authoritarian by the majority of alternative DNS operators. It’s power comes largely from the power of the United States government and many people feel the internet should be free of these government controls.

The Next Big Thing

Frustrated that someone received more than $7.5 million for business.com when you never really had a chance to register it yourself? Many people are grabbing up domains from alternative DNS providers in hopes that these TLDs will one day become mainstream and they’ll be sitting (or rather cybersquatting) on the next big internet gold mine.

Drawbacks

Lack Of Awareness

The biggest drawback to these domains is that few people are even aware that they exist, much less how to access them. It’s taken several years to get people to know that when the see www.coke.com it’s a web address they can type into their browsers. With alternative DNS systems people need to actually download software or lobby their ISPs in order to get access. This is highly unlikely at this point in time.

Limited Hosting Options

Most web hosting companies are not set-up to host alternative TLDs. Thus, you are very limited in choosing a web hosting company for your site. Most alternative DNS providers offer hosting services as well as providing a list of 1 to 3 companies that can host your site.

Choosing Which Alternative

There are dozens of alternative DNS systems available. Unfortunately, your computer can only point to one of them. So, while if you go with a domainisland TLD, you will still be able to access all of the ICANN domains, you won’t be able to access any from Name.Space or biztld.

There are a few organizations working to unify the alternative DNS systems, but this is a tough road to travel since each is generally created by people who prefer to work outside the system. Not to mention that several TLDs are available on more than one alternative DNS system which leads to…

Always The Alternative

The way things have progressed over the last decade or so makes it seem far more likely that these alternative DNS systems will never be mainstreamed. Most of the new TLDs being considered by ICANN for implementation into the traditional DNS system already exist in alternative DNS systems. However, when ICANN finally approves the new TLDs the peopl who currently have them registered at the alternative DNS sites are unlikely to have any claim to the new “official” ones.

There are still legal questions being debated on this very topic, but I’d be very surprised if prior registration with an alternative DNS held any weight.

Domain Conflicts

If you register the domain Record.Shop at new.net and I register the domain Record.Shop at domainisland, we will both have websites with the same name “Record.Shop”. Which of our sites will come up when an end user types http://record.shop into his browser? That depends on which DNS system he’s currently pointed at.

So this means your advertising will have to say something like:

“Visit our website at Record.Shop on the New.Net DNS system.”

So much for simplicity.

Alternative DNS Systems

There are currently dozens of alternative DNS systems available. While I have not actually registered a domain with any of these alternative DNS systems I have spent a fair amount of time examining all of those listed below and have downloaded their software to connect to their DNS servers. With that disclaimer out of the way, here is a list of the best known alternative DNS providers:

Pacific Root – http://www.pacificroot.com

Pacific Root is currently the best attempt at replacing ICANN as a governing body. They offer dozens of alternative TLDs themselves and have joined with dozens of other DNS systems to provide even more alternative TLDs.
Pacific Root is also a large part of the Open Root Server Confederation (ORSC) which is the closest thing to an overall organization the alternative DNS servers have. (More on the ORSC in a future article)

Domain registration starts at only $5.00/year and they offer hosting services as well.

To use their domains you must either download a 46.5k zip file (PC only) or follow the directions on their site.

Name.Space – http://www.namespace.org

Name.Space offers more than 250 TLDs from .2000 to .zone and allows you to create your own TLD if you can’t find one you like in their extensive list.

Domain registration costs $30.00 per year and includes free URL forwarding and email forwarding. If you host your site with Name.Space they will also mirror your site at yourdomain.yourTLD.XS2.net

In order to connect to their DNS servers you must download a 80.1k zip file (available for Mac & Windows) or by following the simple steps on their website.

DomainIsland – http://www.domainisland.com

DomainIsland offers registration of domains in 7,000 different languages (using the appropriate character set) and a dozen different TLDs in English including such esoteric options as .(^o^) and .:-)

Domain registration prices range from $10/year to $199/year depending on the domain you’re interested in with a minimum registration period of two years. They also offer multilingual KeyWord service for $100/year per word (minimum $200).

In order to connect to their DNS servers you must download their 20k zip file or follow the instructions on their site.

New.Net – http://new.net

New.net offers 20 different TLDs including such popular options as .shop, .kids, and .xxx.

Domain registration is $25/year and includes a mirrored domain at yourdomain.yourTLD.new.net

According to the site you merely need to make one click to download their self-installing applet in order to use their DNS servers. However, I have yet to get it to work.

Conclusions

While alternatives to the traditional, ICANN-controlled DNS system do exist, they aren’t really viable at this time. For most people registering a domain with these alternative DNS companies will simply be like throwing money down a hole. And none of them offer any type of refund should you not clearly understand what you’re getting into. If you’re really interested in using an alternative DNS system I recommend you do plenty of research first, so that you clearly understand what is and is not possible with these companies.

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Mar 102001
 
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ICANN has been debating for what seems like forever on whether or not to create new Top Level Domains (TLDs) and what those new TLDs should be. Finally, on November 12, 2000 they decided to implement seven new TLDs: .biz, .info, .name, .pro, .aero, .coop, and .museum. The first of these new TLDs may finally be available within the next few months. However, there are a few problems which must first be overcome.

Unsponsored vs. Sponsored

The new domains are grouped into two large categories: unsponsored and sponsored. According to ICANN:

“Generally speaking, an “unsponsored” TLD operates under policies established by the global Internet community directly through the ICANN process, while a “sponsored” TLD is a specialized TLD that has a sponsoring organization representing the narrower community that is most affected by the TLD. The sponsoring organization thus carries out delegated policy-formulation responsibilities over many matters concerning the TLD.”
– from the ICANN Melbourne Meeting Topic: New TLD Agreements Posted: 26 February 2001 available at http://www.icann.org/melbourne/new-tld-agreements-topic.htm

In other words, the unsponsored TLDs will be handled like “standard” or generic TLDs, while the sponsored TLDs will be handled in a manner similar to the “non-standard” or country-code TLDs.

Negotiations for the unsponsored TLDs are “nearing completion” while those for sponsored TLDs “are still in a formative stage”. Thus, the unsponsored TLDs will likely be the the first to be implemented and the sponsored TLDs may still have a wait of several years.

Unsponsored TLDs: .biz, .info, .name, and .pro
Sponsored TLDs: .aero, .coop, and .museum

What They “Mean”

Actually, like all gTLDs, they don’t really mean anything. However, the seven new domain names are intended for use by the following:

.aero – air-transport industry
.biz – businesses
.coop – non-profit cooperatives
.info – unrestricted use
.museum – museums
.name – individual registrations
.pro – accountants, lawyers, physicians

Pre-Registration and Reservation

Many domain registrars (as well as other companies) have begun offering pre-registration and/or reservation of your domain name at these new TLDs for a fee. This is a scam! Do not do it! No company can promise that you will receive your domain name at any of these TLDs no matter how much money you pay them. Period.

If your registrar is offering a service similar to this for free then there is no harm involved in signing up. However, if they are charging a fee (I’ve seen some as high as $100.00), then I not only would not sign-up, but I’d look into finding another registrar.

Quotes from ICANN’s New TLD FAQ: (available at http://www.icann.org/tlds/)

“No companies have been accredited yet to register names in any of the new TLDs. Registration procedures have not yet been formalized, and there is no
guarantee that any particular organization will be authorized to take registrations for any particular TLD.”

“No one has been authorized to “pre-register” domain names in the new TLDs. Persons who attempt to “pre-register” such domain names do so at their own risk and with no assurance that they will receive the pre-registered names once the TLDs become operational.”

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a Consumer Alert about these practices that can be read at:
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/domainalrt.htm

Obstacles

A number of obstacles remain in the path of these new TLDs. None will become available until all of these hurdles have been cleared:

1)The standards for registering these new TLDs are still being negotiated. The unsponsored TLDs are at about 85% agreement while the sponsored TLDs are more like 40% agreement. Negotiations for the unsponsored TLDs should be completed very soon.

2)There is at least one lawsuit being filed against ICANN to prevent their implementation of some of these new domains. A number of “alternative” DNS services (such as domainisland.com and new.net) have been created over the years (these will be the subject of Part 6 in this series) and they currently use both the .name and .info TLDs. North Pole of America Inc. claims to hold a trademark on both of these TLDs as well.

While not well known, the existence of sites using these alternative DNS systems will create serious confusion should ICANN approve these domain names and the legal issues could remain unresolved for several more years.

3)Since no one is currently set up to accept registrations for these new TLDs and ICANN insists (rightly so) on making the new registrations available to as wide a market as possible in as fair a manner as possible, there must be some sort of lead time between final approval and implementation. I imagine there will be a minimum of 90 days between final approval (which could come as soon as this week for the unsponsored TLDs) and actually opening them to registration.

Conclusions

So, what does this all mean? At the moment, not much. Yes, the rumors of these new TLDs are true…sort of. However, no other new TLDs are being considered at this time, so if you’re waiting for .xxx or .kids, you’ve got an incredibly long wait ahead of you. Of course, if you really can’t wait, then you can always try one of the alternative DNS systems. Don’t know what those are? Then hang on for part 6 in this series: Rebel Domains (Alternative TLDs)

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Feb 252001
 
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The Bottom Line Despite what you may have heard all two character top level domains are country code TLDs. This installment will discuss their benefits and drawbacks.

Non-standard (country code) Top Level Domains are becoming far more common as the number of attractive domains with gTLDs diminishes, which is something to consider when you register your domain name. With .com becoming “too-darn-dot-hard-to-get” (to quote a recent client) more and more people are turning to ccTLDs for their sites.

General Background

Despite all of the hype and advertising to the contrary, all two-character TLDs are country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) and they are not new! Of the 237 currently active ccTLDs, only three new ccTLDs have been added since 1997: .nr-Naru (03/30/98), .bd-Bangladesh (05/20/99) and .ps-Palestinian Territories (03/22/00). Not surprisingly, the first ccTLD was .us-United States (02/15/85) followed several months later by .uk-United Kingdom (07/24/85) which is still probably the most used ccTLD on the internet.

In the last several years many small countries have begun to realize that their unique ccTLD is a national resource and have sought ways to profit from them. Countries such as Western Samoa (.ws), the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (.cc), Tuvalu (.tv) and The Federal State of Micronesia (.fm) have contracted with private companies to market their domains to the rest of the world. Hence, the growing awareness of these domains in the public consciousness.

For a complete list of ccTLDs and their associated countries visit http://www.iana.org/cctld/cctld-whois.htm

Rules and Regulations

Each ccTLD is administered by a group, organization or company selected by IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) and the country the code represents. Thus requirements vary by domain.

Many ccTLDs are limited to residents of the represented country, or others having a ‘presence’ there of some sort. Others offer domains to residents at a reduced price, or even for free.

Additionally, not all ccTLDs permit direct registration of second level domains, but rather use assigned second level domains (usually based off gTLDs) and permit registration of only third level domains. For example, epinions.uk would not be permitted, but epinions.co.uk would be acceptable.

You also need to be aware that such things as propriety are culturally based. In other words, what seems an innocuous word or phrase in your country may be taboo in other countries and not permitted to be registered with certain gTLDs.

Although gTLDs may now be up to 63 characters long (including the TLD), not all countries have upgraded their DNS servers to permit long domain names. Thus, names may be limited to as few as 23 characters total.

Be sure to read all the regulations related to the ccTLD you are interested in before finalizing your decision.

Pros and Cons

The primary reason that most people turn to ccTLDs is because the domain name they want has already been registered with all three gTLDs. While this does make some sense, unless the ccTLD is somehow tied in to your site’s purpose, people are unlikely to remember your TLD and end up at yourchosenname.com rather then your actual site. A better move may be to choose a different second level name that is still available.

The largest problem with ccTLDs is that they are difficult for people to remember. As discussed extensively in part 3 of this series, most people tend to assume your domain ends in .com. The majority of these can adapt fairly easily to a .net domain, but I’ve had numerous people inform me that web addresses such as .tw (Taiwan) and .lv (Latvia) simply don’t exist.

Obviously if you reside outside the US or your site deals primarily with issues related to another country then choosing the associated ccTLD would be a good choice. Or if you actually have operations and/or customers in more than one country, then registering your domain with each unique ccTLD may be appropriate. Ditto, if your trademark is registered in multiple countries.

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This is part four of a series of articles on domain registration also posted on epinions.com.

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Feb 102001
 
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The Bottom Line This installment will cover the standard three-character domain names that are familiar to most web-surfers.

Standard (or generic) Top Level Domains are both the most common and the most well-known. There are seven gTLDs: .com, .net, .org, .edu, .gov, .mil and .int. Only the first three are truly generic although all seven three-character domains are usually lumped together under the gTLD acronym.

Reserved gTLDs

Originally all TLDs were reserved for specific uses, but only four gTLDs remain regulated at this time. They’ll likely remain reserved for the forseeable future for reasons which should become obvious. The four reserved gTLDs are: .edu, .gov, .mil and .int.

The .edu (or educational) domain is reserved for colleges and universities that grant degrees at the bachelor, master and doctoral level, or their foreign equivalents. To register a .edu domain (if you qualify) go to http://www.networksolutions.com

Not surprisingly, the United States government continues to control the .gov (or government) TLD for its exclusive use. Any federal agency may register for and receive a .gov domain. Thus this is where you will find such erstwhile organizations as the FBI, CIA, NSA and IRS, not to mention the White House itself. Registration of .gov domains is handled at http://www.nic.gov

As the third founding body of the internet the US military lays claim to their own gTLD (.mil or military) as well. Most, if not all, US military bases (whether on domestic or foreign soil) maintain .mil domains to house their websites and email servers. More information on .mil domains can be found at http://www.nic.mil

The final gTLD is the the .int (or international) domain. This is used exclusively for organizations created as a result of international treaties organizations enacted between governments and international databases supporting public internet architecture functions. This one’s pretty rare (in fact, I’d never heard of it until doing research for this article). For more information on (or to register) .int domains visit http://www.iana.org/int-dom/int.htm

Truly Generic TLDs

The remaining gTLDs are the true standard internet domains: .com, .net and .org. Although these were originally reserved as well (for commercial sites, networks, and non-profit organizations), all three have been deregulated over the last several years. Now anyone may register for and use these domains regardless of their country of residence or the purpose of their site. Thus, having lost their uniqueness, one cannot know what to expect when surfing toward a site housed on these domains.

The King of Domains: .com

The most prized addresses on the internet have .com TLDs. This is because .com is, by far, the most well known and best publicized TLD. The phrase “dot com” has entered the language with a vengeance and shows no sign of subsiding. Dot com stocks have taken over financial news reports, high-tech workers are referred to as dot commers, and I’ve even heard self-proclaimed Luddites refer to themselves as “not commers”. Essentially .com has become synonymous with the internet in the public consciousness.

As a result, .com has become the default, or assumed, top level domainname. Mega-sites like Yahoo and eBay no longer feel the need to include their TLD in advertising. People simply “know” it is there. The existence of internet keywords can, at least partially, be traced back to a porn site located at whitehouse.com that was regularly stumbled upon by people seeking information on the leader of the free world. Type almost any English word into the address bar of your browser and you will, most likely, be taken to thatword.com.

Unfortunately, the status of the .com TLD has a rather negative effect on newcomers to the internet: the vast majority of words, phrases and acronyms have already had their .com TLD registered. This leaves new arrivals with two basic choices: creative spelling or choosing another TLD.

A Close Second: .net

While originally limited to a collection of a dozen or more servers networked together the .net TLD is now home to thousands of site both large and small. The success of such ISPs as Earthlink.net and PacBell.net has helped increase the viability of .net domains. In fact the tendency to abbreviate “the internet” as “the net”has made this the preferred TLD of a number of businesses and organizations.

When I started my web hosting business I specifically sought out a .net domain to imply the company’s integral ties to the internet. Others use this TLD to imply that they are destinations for inter-personal networking. And .net remains the perfect designator for sites devoted to collecting links and basic information about those interested in a specific topic.

However, the common practice of registering the identical domain under the .com TLD (both Earthlink and Pacbell have done so) when available demonstrates the continued subservience of .net to its better known brother.

With thousands of domains being registered each day the availabilty of attractive .net names continues to shrink. If the name you’re interested in has been registered as a .com, but is still available as a .net I recommend you snatch it up quickly before you’re stuck with an even less appealing TLD.

The Also Ran: .org

The final standard TLD is also the least popular for several reasons. Originally used for private non-proft organizations, the .org TLD has remained truest to its roots with the majority of its current users continuing to be in this category.

Most obvious in the arguments against acquiring a .org TLD is the simple fact that it still implies organization in a person’s mind (when it implies anything at all). This is not suitable for personal homepages or business (which generally prefer to be perceived as “companies” rather than “organizations”). Additionally, .org is often difficult to pronounce and has a greater tendency to slip from a person’s mind then the previously discussed .com or .net TLDs.

Let’s look at www.norcalslam.org as an example. This site is essentially a calendar and information center for Northern California Poetry Slams. While not registered as a non-profit organization it is in no way a commercial site but rather is operated as a service to the performance poetry community. Choosing the .org TLD seems appropriate. However, the site is most often promoted verbally at open-mics, poetry readings and slams. Of the more than 100 shows where I have heard this site promoted it has been mis-promoted as norcalslam.com at least 90% of the time. Even when immediately corrected this leads to confusion amongst those hoping to devote the domain to memory so that they can visit the site later.

Registering gTLDs

There are several dozen sites that will permit you to register standard domains. For a complete list visit http://www.icann.org/registrars/accredited-list.html

If you’re just looking to register one or two domains I highly recommend Dotster for the best combination of price, service and ease of use. (see my review at http://www.epinions.com/content_8950943364 )

If you’re planning on registering five or more distinct domain names the DotRegistrar is certainly the place to go (see my review at http://www.epinions.com/content_7453773444 )

The cost to register a standard domain ranges from $6.95/year to $35.00/year or more depending on which registrar you use and any additional services you require. The process itself is fairly easy and can take anywhere from five minutes to two weeks to be completed.

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This is part three of a series of articles on domain registration also posted on epinions.com

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Jan 292001
 
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The Bottom Line Plain and simple: domain registrars are companies that allow individuals or companies to register domain names.

What are domain registrars?

Plain and simple: domain registrars are companies that allow individuals or companies to register domain names.

What is a domain name?

Allow me to defer to the Netdictionary (http://www.netdictionary.com) on this one:

“domain name — The official name of a computer connected to the Internet. Domain names are derived from a hierarchical system, with a host name followed by a top-level domain category. The top-level domain categories are com (for commercial enterprises), org (for non-profit organizations), net (for network services providers), mil (for the military), and gov (for government). Some Internet domain names include the computer server name, other sub-domains, and/or country abbreviations (e.g., us). Domain names act as easy-to-remember addresses for product or company information. As such, they are often subject to disputes between competing commercial interests. Most domain names are assigned by the InterNIC.”

For example, http://www.epinions.com is the domain name for Epinions.

So, what do domain registrars do?

For a fee, these companies will connect your name (and contact info) with a unique domain name. This allows you to use this domain name as the address for your website and prevents others from using the same name.

Do you mean they’ll host my website?

Well, sometimes. Many domain registrars now act as web hosting services as well (and almost all web hosts offer domain registration service as well), but the term ‘domain registrar’ applies specifically to companies that assign domain names.

So, why don’t I just have my web host or my ISP register my domain?

Because most of these charge in additional fee to provide this service. By registering your domain yourself you can save as much as $100.

Is registering a domain difficult?

Not exactly, but it can be intimidating to people unfamiliar with the process. If you have never done it before, you may want someone around to ask advice from.

Okay, how do I choose which domain registrar is right for me?

That’s a whole different article. For advice on domain registrars read the reviews of individual registrars or read the articles in the ‘How To Choose Domain Registrars’ section.

If you have any other questions feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment.

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This is part two of a series of articles on domain registration also published on epinions.com

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