“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare’s Juliet famously asked. Apparently not much, for she said, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
In our Internet age, I think the answer is different. Names, particularly Internet domain names, have become indispensable. Without its name, an Internet business no longer exists.
A decade ago, however, many major businesses seemed clueless about domain names and the Internet.
In 1994, a Newsday reporter named Joshua Quittner called McDonalds to ask about domain names.
Remarkably, Mcdonalds.com was not registered at the time, and he wondered why. The PR group knew nothing about registering domain names. Eventually he was told “We are considering it.”
Mr. Quittner registered mcdonalds.com on his own, adopted the email address [email protected], and published a very interesting article in Wired magazine entitled:
“Billions Registered: right now, there are no rules to keep you from owning a bitchin’ corporate name as your own Internet address.”
I share this story to illustrate the dramatic change in little over a decade. In 1994, even sophisticated companies knew little about domain names.
Today we all know about domain names. For most of us, using the Internet is as common as watching TV, using a phone or driving a car. In fact, according to Internet World Stats, about 70% of the total U.S. population are now Internet users.
As a result, most of us encounter domain names every day. Many are now famous: amazon.com, google, yahoo, aol. They are everywhere. Domaintools.com, a web site that provides daily domain name statistics, reports that there are over 85 million active domain names worldwide.
The importance of domain names to today’s businesses is obvious and the risk of lost business from mismanagement is high.
One of my clients is a psychic and author of many books on the subject. It’s fun having a psychic as a client. When she says, “hi, how are you,” I always want to ask, “don’t you know?”
Anyway, she runs her business from her house. Her website is very important to her, to promote her books and speaking events. She includes her domain name on all her correspondence, her book jackets, her newsletter, everything you can imagine.
One day a few years ago, she went to her home computer and was shocked at what she found. She yelled for her husband, “What have you done to my website?”
What she found was this: her domain name led to an “adult entertainment” site. Imagine the impact: the domain name printed on all of her books and publications was now directing her loyal fans to hardcore porn.
Her husband, fortunately, wasn’t the culprit. Instead, she had registered the domain name through an ISP who failed to respond to the renewal notice. The registration lapsed and was snapped up by the porn operator.
This has proven to be a common problem, for small and large businesses alike. Even Microsoft has lost two important domain names due to renewal slips: hotmail.co.uk in 2003 and passport.com in 1999.
In my client’s case we were able to solve the problem for her in a matter of days through negotiation with the porn site operator. But finding a solution is not always so quick, easy or cheap, which brings me to my final point.
What should you do to protect your domain names from a similar fate?
Start by checking the content of your registration record. You can do this at allwhois.com, for example, or similar sites. Be sure your domain name registration information is correct. Also be sure that the billing and renewal notices will be sent to a live email address that you control and will answer.
You can also avoid the renewal problem entirely. Try the approach taken by another one of my clients who runs a nursery and gardening center in the west suburbs of Chicago. He wants to insure people find his roses. Rather than registering for a one year term, as is typical, we’ve registered his domain names for 99 years. After that, he figures he won’t care.
Perhaps you also own domain names that are indispensable for your business. If so, please learn from these. Take steps today to insure your domain names are not lost. Without it, your Internet business will not smell so sweet.