Domain Mastery

Computer World –

Sure, .biz and .aero and .coop are big news. But let's talk about sex -- specifically, sex.com. Last week, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered that domain name to be returned to its original owner, after hearing allegations that a new owner had forged documents in 1995 transferring the name to himself. Want to know how easy it was to steal a hot domain name? According to court documents, all it took was one forged document sent to the domain name registrar, Network Solutions Inc. And how tough was it to get the name back? It took five years of legal work.

OK, everybody -- go ahead and make your jokes about the poor guy who went five years without sex.com. Finished? Good - because the case points up a real risk for corporate IT shops, especially with a flood of new top-level domains on its way.

In the months to come, you'll be acquiring lots of new domain names: yourcompany.biz, yourcompany.info, yourcompany.pro. You won't use most of them, but you'll have to lock them up because they're confusingly similar to yourcompany.com. And you'd better have a good system in place to keep track of them -- and, more importantly, to make sure they remain yours.

This isn't a big-ticket item. Domain names are hugely valuable, but they cost only $35 a year. What's expensive is if you don't know that one of your domain names has been hijacked. Or you forget to renew an important name. Or you miss a chance to snap up a name your marketing department really wanted.

That's when the bill will arrive on IT's doorstep -- whether you knew it was your responsibility or not.

So how do you make sure you have your domains nailed down?

Inventory. You need a complete, up-to-date list of your domain names and their status -- whether they're your primary domains, the pointers that forward users to your Web sites or names that are just parked (that is, registered but not being used). And someone on your staff should -- as a primary job responsibility -- be maintaining that domain inventory.

Status checks. You need to regularly verify that everything in that inventory is what it's supposed to be. That means checking every domain name to make sure it's still registered as yours and confirming that contact information and the domain servers listed are correct. You can automate this process, but someone on your IT staff should make sure the script is being run and that it's being done right.

Shadow inventory. You also need a list of confusingly similar domain names that you don't control. That may include product names as well as your company name. And you should check their statuses regularly, too, in case the registrations lapse. When one becomes available, you might want to jump on it fast to use or park.

Domain research. You need to be looking for domain names to track in your shadow inventory, too. That means checking regularly with Marketing and Legal about forthcoming product names and trademarks they might want to protect. Business changes -- and so will the list of domains you need to follow.

Plan of action. Finally, you need to pave the road in case a problem or opportunity shows up. If you discover someone has hijacked one of your domain names, you need to know exactly who in Legal or management to tell, and what information they'll need to take action. You also need authority to buy up the domain names you want without a lot of paperwork -- domains that are here today are often gone tomorrow.

Maybe it all seems like too much work to track some $35-a-year domain names. Just remember -- sex..com turned out to be worth $100 million a year. That's a lot of incentive to remain master of your domains.

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