Growing Pains...the Birth of New Domains
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The highly controversial global top level domain (gTLD) .biz opened up for business on the public stage Wednesday, the second new TLD approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) this year.
And like its predecessor, .info, the new TLD has met with a series of technical hitches that's tarnished the reputation of the fledgling domain name registry. It's not a good start for the seven new registries approved by ICANN, amidst plenty of controversy, last year to open up the Internet beyond .com, .net and .org.
.Biz registration, which was to begin at midnight, was delayed by approximately an hour-and-a-half as registry officials scrambled to link up domain name service (DNS) servers from registrars worldwide. It's continued proof the gTLD owners, NeuLevel, Inc., were not quite as ready for prime time as its contract submission to ICANN had stated.
"The system was actually up and running at midnight, but the initial transactions (by registrars) were to add DNS servers for all their resellers, said Doug Armentrout, NeuLevel chief executive officer. "There was significantly more than what we anticipated in the beginning and so we made some adjustments. Basically, we did that so we didn't have a situation where one registrar could start registering before others could."
According to Armentrout, there are a number of registrars that have been unable to connect to the .biz registry since it went public, but said they would be dealt with promptly.
Armentrout also admitted the two-week delay from its original Oct. 23 launch date was the result of pushing too hard, too fast. That, coupled with courtroom setbacks, hindered a public launch, he said.
Many feel .biz delayed its launch while it tried to get a handle on the class action lawsuit filed against them in July, the result of what advocates call an illegal lottery. The fledgling registry has already forked over $3 million for bond and expenses are likely to climb. It's assumed that NeuLevel lawyers are trying to strike a settlement to put the legal actions behind them.
"We had this time period from when we stopped taking domain name applications on Sept. 21 to Oct. 23, when we were going to begin to reserve first-come, first-served registrations," Armentrout said. "Between that time frame we had another mini land rush, and we were concerned that we didn't run into the problems that the other TLD (.info) ran into."
NeuLevel officials are understandably reluctant to disclose any technical problems they are experiencing, especially in light of .info's launch, in which thousands of requests poured into the registry every minute, causing the network to collapse soon after going "live."
As a result, NeuLevel officials said they wanted to avoid a repeat, so delayed the launch to allow registrars to test the system.
"We felt we hadn't offered the registrars enough opportunity to test their systems, given the number of requests we had from them that they didn't have enough time," Armentrout said. "What we did on Oct. 23, we opened up the registry to the registrars, so that they could test the system. Initially, we opened it up to one registrar, who went through 225,000 transactions in about two hours. It went very well, so we opened it up to other registrars so that they could do simultaneous testing. All of that testing went very well, so we opened it up Nov. 7.
Larry Erlich, president of registrar Domainregistry.com, said that while he still isn't convinced it was only technical problems that led to the two-week delay, their attempts to include registrars in the test program was a nice gesture.
"I don't see how a 'test' like that is going to simulate real usage and problems," Erlich said. "But I give them a lot of credit (to NeuLevel) for caring enough to take this step - it certainly can't hurt. Keep in mind that there are problems that still come up and need to be fixed with the Verisign system and that has been online for some time now."
For registrars, these are trying times. Not only must they grab as many new customers as they can, they also have to restrain their customers from expecting to land the domain name of choice, since there's no guarantee it will become available. Throw in delays and mix-ups and you have a dangerous brew of customer dissatisfaction.
David Hirschler, register.com retail division general manager, said that overall his company has been happy with the .biz and .info launches. Expecting the new domain registries to roll out without a problem, he said, would have been unrealistic.
"I think that .biz did a fairly good job given the situation," Hirschler said. "You know, it's not easy just breaking into the industry and starting up a registry. On the one hand, they were very eager to get out quickly and published a lot of dates that were probably unrealistic and created a lot of havoc with the registrar community, but in general it was something we anticipated so it's not something we fully fault them for.
"At the end of the day, I think that they handled it pretty well," he said.
.Name is in the middle of its sunrise period right now, a process for the other new domain extensions that let trademark owners reserve their names first. Since .name deals with individual users, registry owner Global Name Registry will pool requests together (for example www.michaeljackson.name) by name and randomly select the domain winner.
Hirschler echoes the concerns of many registrars, who see the potential windfalls for the new TLDs getting a lot smaller down the road.
.Name and .museum, which have already signed agreements with ICANN, are mainly niche markets. Add signup problems, as in the case of .biz and .info, and you have a potential "ghost town" domain extension problem.
"In the future, it's really going to depend on the individual TLD that comes out," Hirschler said. "For instance, .name is really targeting the consumer which is interesting because the consumers have been the slowest group to adopt to the Internet world because there's been real limited usage opportunities for them.
"We're excited though," he added. "Anything that opens up the Internet is good for everyone involved."
ICANN board of directors and the public will be heading to Marina Del Ray, CA, Nov. 13-15 for one of its periodic meetings. Normally a time devoted to discuss items like the launch problems of .biz and .info, much of the agenda was revamped recently to address the 9-11 attacks. The event has been dubbed the "Security and Stability of the Internet Naming and Address Allocation Systems."