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March 8, 2007

Don?t put all your online eggs in one DNS basket!

Maintaining E-contact with attendees is at last recognised as a vital part of a wholly integrated event – maybe we should propose the expression “Events 2.0” in the wake of all the hype about “Web 2.0”.

Managing any online persona has become increasingly complex as anti-spam and other measures make the task of mass emailing ever more irksome for legitimate users. Separating the online business functions of mail and web so that you can have genuine specialists deal with the various elements of the mix is now important. The old idea of a “one-size fits all” solution for all web and email rarely provides access to these specialities and the new tactics, but many internet service providers are now locking their users into inappropriate deals without anyone really understanding the core issues.

And at the other extreme, specialist IT services that charge their clients can wilfully overcomplicate online life by installing (frequently) unnecessary distractions like MS Exchange servers, without anyone really knowing if there are any benefits. However, once the man from the IT consultancy has shaken the bag of bones over the box and made the mystic incantations, you are stuck with it for the duration.

I get to see the results of badly configured email systems all day long, and even the largest companies still make the most basic errors. In fact, the larger the company, the more basic tend to be the mistakes.

So let’s start with the most basic thing of all – your domain name(s).

There’s a lot of misinformation being (deliberately?) propagated by web and mail hosting companies on the matter of who should be allowed to manage the domain names that underpin any email and web presence. Let’s get one thing clear: there is NO requirement for the transfer of domain registrar before any particular service can be provided and it worries me that anyone should believe otherwise since it uncovers fundamental ignorance of the way the internet was designed and has worked for 40 years.

There is a popular misconception that a web/mail hosting company "must" have total management of domain names in order for email and web to work, but that is just not true. The domain name server (DNS) must be able to operate independently of any other configuration – it’s part of the internet's fundamental foundation as a distributed resilient system capable of withstanding nuclear attack that the directory service and the services being directed are not at a single point of failure. There is no (technical) reason why the DNS, email and web cannot each be hosted and operated in separate continents.

Some companies established during the early phase of the internet when communal good was still part of the ethos (generally pre 1997), have taken a relaxed view on domain registration transfer, not making a transfer charge for what is frequently a vastly more complex process than the original name registration, but latterly the effort by many mass-production hosting companies to try and "lock in" their customers by also controlling their domain names has become endemic. So gradually all name registration services have tightened up – especially in the light of scams run mostly from the US and elsewhere where registered domain holders have been asked to renew their domains by a spurious agent who then takes control of the registrations, and makes it nearly impossible to let go again.

To be blunt, one possible reason for this tactic is that control of all the services combined with control of the domain name effectively prevents any customer from disputing a bill and taking their web/mail custom elsewhere. Like a garage holding onto the car’s ignition keys until the bill is paid.

When a domain registrar transfer is performed, why does the registrar of .com “namespace” take 5-10 days, whereas it take 5 seconds in the .uk namespace..? All registrars struggle hard to retain the business because domain name renewal in a nice recurring revenue stream that they can exploit as the basis for the sale of many other services. So many now "pretend" that it is essential for them to also control your domain name(s) to provide these services.

Furthermore, in the event of a major "situation" arising and a domain user needing to urgently redirect email (out and/or in) or web site to available servers to maintain online presence and visibility, it is not necessarily advisable to have all the domain name servers with one country registry, either – especially under the exclusive control of the USA, which appears to be the case for everyone who rely on nameservers solely listed in the .com or .net namespace. The threat of the US "turning off the internet" refers to the ability of the US to unplug the root name servers for these crucial domains. (And it is also another reason why no sensible company should rely on a .com name without having a alias backup in co.uk)

You can check your domain record and nameserver status at www.usp.net.

Next time: more about subdomains and how to use these to create the perfect event domain name every time - even if you think it's long been taken by someone else.

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