You’re no longer getting new email. Nobody can get to your website. But you can still get to the Internet, and everything else related to technology seems to be working in your office. You only noticed something was wrong because the flood of new email messages which regularly invade your inbox seems to have abated.
Your domain name has expired.
You may ask: “What is a domain and why would I want one?” Let me assure you that you have one and you want to keep it.
Your domain name is your identity on the Internet. It’s the word which replaced your phone number, fax number, street address and nearly every other piece of branding you owned when the Internet replaced traditional marketing assets. If you have a business that depends on clients, partners, vendors, governments, friends, family and foes to communicate with you via email or web, then it may be the most valuable Internet property you own.
The system of managing rights to Internet property like domain names was once a government monopoly. That system strained under the load of the “Gold Rush” when newcomers raced to stake their claim in this new territory. The U.S. created the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to manage the system on behalf of Internet users around the globe.
But that doesn’t really matter to you. Your domain name exists because you reserved it at a “registrar” like GoDaddy, Network Solutions or Register.com. These reservations usually have at least one-year terms. Essentially, you “rent” your domain name from the registrar for a period of time. In exchange for your rent, the registrar enters your name in a large list of names which may be found using Internet domain name services. (You need those too, but they are generally provided by other Internet service providers.)
What happens is many of our customers forget to pay their rent and the registrar withholds their services. When that happens, your Internet presence goes dark. This can be a very difficult problem to repair and may have dire consequences.
The typical way that your registrar communicates with you is via email. If your domain name is invalid you will no longer get email.Many companies designate employees or vendors as the contact person for their domain name administration communications. Employees leave, their email addresses change, and before you know it important information about your domain name is being sent to an email account that no longer exists and is being ignored.
We’ve seen cases where former IT vendors refused to cooperate in domain name transfers or domain name services updates. A contest over domain name ownership is a big deal.
What can be truly frustrating is when a registrar assesses a penalty for you to reclaim your domain name if allowed to lapse. We’ve seen fees in the hundreds of dollars.
But worse, if your domain name expires and it remains unregistered for a period of time, it can be released into the pool of available domain names and then “poached” by opportunists who may attempt to sell it back to you. There is a thriving market for desirable domain names that place values into the millions of dollars for some. It may be a bidding war you can’t win.
If you lack the email address or account information at your registrar to manage your domain name you will be challenged to provide evidence that the name is actually yours before you can do anything with it. Our customers are sometimes shocked to learn that they can’t simply call someone and have the changes they need made. This is a necessary protection that prevents hijackers from stealing domains and holding them hostage. (It has happened before!)
If you lose your credentials to manage your domain name you may be required to fill out forms and fax copies of electric and phone bills, driver’s license and documents related to your legal entity to your registrar to get it back. The process is time consuming – exactly what you DON’T NEED when your email and website are down and for all intents and purposes your business is apparently CLOSED to anyone on the Internet.
Don’t let me forget to mention that other forms of Internet property are just as important as your domain names and need to be managed carefully: your Twitter handle and Facebook account deserve care and attention, too!•
Kim Brand is a technology expert and President of Computer Experts Inc. He is the inventor of FileSafe. He speaks and writes frequently on technology subjects – making them interesting and understandable. To attend a free seminar on Outlook titled: “Outlook Intervention!” contact his office: [email protected] or call 317-833-3000. The opinions expressed are those of the author.