In the beginning, there were .com, .net and .org.
Created in 1985 at the dawn of the Internet era, the three marked the first original generic top-level domains (gTLDs). In 2003, the .org gTLD was split off from VeriSign to fall under the auspices of the Public Interest Registry (PIR), marking a new era for the gTLD. In July 2007, Alexa Raad took over as CEO of Public Interest Registry and has been active ever since in reshaping the brand and activities of .org.
Even though new TLDs are proliferating, .org is still experiencing growth under the leadership of Raad, who came to .org after having previously worked at VeriSign and with dotmobi, the company behind the .mobi domain. Today, .org claims over 7 million registered domains.
Aside for the domain management, .org has been a leader in forming industry initiatives to enhance Internet security with The Registry Internet Safety Group (RISG) as well as the DNSSEC Industry Coalition.
In a wide-ranging interview with InternetNews.com, Raad discussed her goals for .org, the misconceptions about what .org is all about and the challenges facing all domains.
Q: You became CEO of .org in 2007. Since then, what have been some of the surprises that have come your way?
For myself, it’s been a great challenge as this is my first CEO role and it’s a lot of growth for me.
For the company, it has been an incredible ride over the last year. We changed everything from the logo and the branding to what .org stands for. We tried to remove misconceptions that it’s a closed TLD. We really put the mission to serve the public interest in the forefront. We initiated industry wide coalitions on issues like how to deploy DNSSEC to how we solve the phishing problem.
On the industry, the potential floodgate of new TLDs is somewhat surprising. If you think about domains like Real Estate – with Real Estate we had irrational exuberance and the market had to settle. There was only so much speculation that could go on.
Q: You previously worked at dotmobi and at VeriSign. How is PIR/.org different?
At .org, you’d be very surprised. We’re only a twelve-person company. I’m constantly told by people who meet me that they think we’re a much large company when in fact we’re not.
The reason why is that we engage in a lot of projects that have a global nature with global significance, so we seem a lot bigger than we are. It’s a challenge and it’s an opportunity.
The challenge is to get involved in projects we can do well at and deliver and that fit with our mission and vision. Which is to run in a way that is in the public interest for the long term interest of the Internet – its security and its stability.
Organizationally, dotmobi was a startup, so it was vastly different. VeriSign is a public company — it has shareholders and a different set of motivations and that’s great, but it’s very different than .org.
Q: What do you see as the biggest myth or misconception about what .org is and what you do at PIR?
I think the biggest misconception is that it’s only for nonprofits.
We’ve got a good niche and a large enough niche. The .org domain is for anyone that wants to transform ideas into action.
It could be local little league, it could be a blog, it could be Wikipedia, it could be open source software. We think we have a very distinct and rather larger niche and we don’t compete for the same customers that .com does.
We feel that .org, more than any other TLD, offers a genuine sense of community.
Page 2: Fixing what’s wrong with the registry business
Q: What is your key goal for .org?
Obviously .org is a business. It’s a non-profit but it’s also a business. It has to be run in a way that is foundationally sound. That’s part one without that we can’t do our other activities.
As an example our DNSSEC activities are not revenue producing for us. It is something that we do as part of our mission for doing good for the Internet.
So part of it is to run a successful stable business. The other part is to engage in policies and advocate positions that may not be as feasible for others to do but is in the interest of the greater good for all.
Another example is what we do with the RISG group, where we bring together registries and law enforcement, ultimately to benefit people like my parents who are on e-mail. They are being targeted by phishing attacks, just like everyone else, and unless we step up as an industry and try to understand the problem from a holistic point of view, criminals are just going to get better and smarter, moving from one TLD to another.
We think we’re uniquely positioned [relative to] other TLDs. We have a good reputation as a company for taking the long term and the right viewpoint.
Q: What’s wrong with the registry business today? What would you like to change?
One of the things I’d like to see is more industry collaboration. A lot of the problems that we face are not singular problems. We do not live in a silo, the Internet is a great equalizer and we all own part of that real estate.
To run a registry with a singular outlook that is simply about the success of yours and nobody else’s is shortsighted. I think what we’ve seen with the DNSSEC coalition is that a lot of the kudos go to our partners that have stepped up providing talent and resources.
The positive trend that I’m seeing is we are realizing that it’s not just about us, it’s not our neighborhood it’s about THE neighborhood. We all bear a sense of responsibility and we can’t wait for someone else to solve the problems, it is our turn now to step up and do it.
Q: What are your biggest challenges in growing .org?
Running a good business, running it in a form where everyone at .org is fulfilled. Not just in terms of job satisfaction, but also in terms of what they are able to accomplish for the greater good.
What keeps me up is how do we balance all the responsibility that we’ve taken on with running a really stable and good business and actually making good on all the challenges we’ve taken on.