My 9/16/07 Missoulian column: Your name up in lights on the internet; or, getting your own domain isn’t difficult
How do you get one of those email addresses and a website that’s myownname.com or mybusinessname.com? Owning your own domain – that’s what it’s called – and having a website and an email address that’s personal looks more professional than a Yahoo address or a website at Blogger, and it’s not that difficult to do if you can navigate ecommerce websites and follow instructions.
Domains are administered by businesses called domain registrars, and since the process was opened up to competition in the 1990’s there are now hundreds of registrars on the web. Registrars make working with the DNS process easy; DNS stands for Domain Name Service, and it’s the giant phonebook for the internet. There are over 100 million listings in the DNS phonebook right now, and it’s growing by the thousands everyday. The DNS system also interprets the numerical IP (Internet Protocol) address of a website to something easier for humans to read. The IP for my website is 220.127.116.11, and that’s how all the computers find each other on the internet, but it’s better known to everyone else as markratledge.com.
Domains can cost as little as $2 a year, though I’d shy away from the real inexpensive registrars. Expect to pay between around $7-$10 per year, because you get what you pay for in terms of ease of use and, if you need it, customer support. You might also want to pay an additional $10 or so a year for what’s called a private registration, as in the DNS system, your registration information – name, email, phone number, etc. – is publicly available, and a private registration hides your information from spammers.
The first step to get your own domain is to go to a registrar on the web. One of the most popular domain registrars is GoDaddy.com, which you might have seen on TV sponsoring cars in IndyCar races. They are a one stop shop for domains, email and website hosting. If you have DSL or broadband, sometimes the local company you use for internet access will also offer domain registrations, though they might not offer easy webmail and website building tools.
The first thing to find out when registering a domain is to determine if someone has already grabbed the one you want. You’ll type in your desired domain name and pick one or more of the different suffixes, such as .com, .net, .us, .name or .biz. Then the registrar instantly checks the DNS to see if your domain is available. You’ll quickly find out the difference between DNS and the telephone book; the phone book can list twenty different people with the same name. On the internet, there can only be one joesmith.com. That’s why you might want to proactively register your name or business; if you don’t, and someone else grabs it, it can be expensive to buy them out, or you’ll have to settle for a variation on your name or business.
Has someone already grabbed the domain you want? Try a simple variation on the spelling, try initials or try a number. (Take a breath and check the name you want for unintended meanings and double ententes!) Some registrars, like GoDaddy, offer the option of putting a backorder on a registered domain. If someone has already grabbed montanacowboy.com, it’s possible to get in line for it, and if it comes open, they will grab it for you. Some businesses “cybersquat” on domains, registering them for a few weeks to a few months, hoping to make money selling them or from the clickable advertisements on the site, and sometimes you can wait them out and get the domain yourself.
Registering a domain at GoDaddy can take up to an hour if you consider all the options, but behind the scenes, it takes around 24 hours for the whole process to complete and for your domain to show up in the virtual world of the internet. After everything goes through the DNS system there will be a GoDaddy “placeholder” website at your domain that says your domain is “parked.”
Now, the second step: once you own your domain, it’s time to do something with it. Owning a domain doesn’t automatically make it work as an email address or a website. Your domain must be “hosted” somewhere. Some registrars offer both domain registration and web and email hosting, like GoDaddy, and they can be more convenient if you’re new to all this. If in doubt, get your local teenager to help; chances are they’ve done all this before.
If you don’t want to deal with a website, you can host your domain just for email. Email only hosting is cheap, or in some cases free. Follow the directions; most registrars try to make it as easy as possible. Once you have hosted a domain for email, you’ll need to wait another 24 hours or so for it to filter through the DNS system. Then, you’ll need to follow the directions to change the settings in whatever email program you use on your PC or laptop. Some hosting services will set you up with web-based email, so you don’t need to change anything. You can go to a website at the registrar and work with your email there.
It’s mostly the same process with a website. Some registrars offer easy website hosting and building for a few dollars a month, or free with their advertisements. Building a website can be as simple as point and click: choosing a template, entering your information and photos, and seeing how you like it. You can build a website in an evening, and the next day it will be “live,” and your name will be up in lights on the internet.