Every week I see it, an individual and a company facing off – or one business toe-to-toe with another – over domain names. And it always happens when one or another of them are faced with pressures of site deadlines, launch dates, or other critical in-house problems. The pressures makes everyone grumpy, and what otherwise could have been handled with a simple conversation end up in the content of legal documents and ugly correspondence – even sometimes the courtroom. Some classic cases involving VW and Nissan are some of the most-told stories about the history of domain name law.
If companies would only take the time to build domain name monitoring into their property asset monitoring schemes, this issue would probably be reduced dramatically. Small companies are the ones that seem to be hurt the most. Just this week, our own beloved independent theatre was embroiled in a domain name dispute with a volunteer who’d been working on the site for a long time. It was a hand-adjusted job, and probably took hours to update each week.
If someone had taken the time to review the domain name using a tool such as whois.sc, they’d have seem trouble coming – it was registered to the volunteer – not the Theater. Now, with a new website about to be launched (not by my firm) they are unable to use what is undoubtedly the only name that makes sense – and the one with hundreds of incoming links and search engine rank. I wish them luck in resolving it amicably.
This has also affected some of my clients, and countless other businesses. I would propose that companies build domain name review into their calendars twice annually. Don’t assign this task to your web designer – have your CFO/CIO/COO do the check. If you’re a small firm, pick someone else to keep an eye on it. It’s sort of geeky, but a really nice little domain monitoring tool is over here.
The most important domain data is the registrant information and the expiration date. With the registrant information set to your corporate entity, you have a well defined course of action even with an uncooperative web host or designer squatting on your name. If the registrant is not set up properly, things get complicated. Of course, the expiration date is important, as an expired name is like a lost child – it can wander into some very dark places.
I think it’s usually best to ask your web host to set up an email alias for your domain name administrative and billing contacts – that is, something like firstname.lastname@example.org. This email alias should cause any message sent to it to send notes to your web designer, your CFO/CIO/COO, and your accountant. Everyone should know that a name is expiring or when something changes on the registration.
One last note about web development voluntarism. There is a deeper issue at work here, and something I will probably write more about. When website design and development is volunteered for charity, I recommend that the developer produce invoices for the work and have them signed off as contributions. Otherwise, I’ve found that the organization in question does not value the contribution.
In fact, VERY FEW companies realize how much work it is to maintain a website that changes all the time. I recommend to just about all non-profits that come to me that they use a content management system such as Joomla to do their site so they can operate in a self-managing autonomous fashion, or easily transfer the effort between volunteers. Having a custom-built, glass-house website that only one person knows how to tweak is asking for trouble. But this is the only thing many amateur web designers know how to do!