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It’s rather unfortunate, especially in this increasingly digital world, that so few businesses understand the importance of keeping track of a domain’s age. This is unsurprisingly a symptom of a greater problem, that being that few businesses fully appreciate what domains truly are. There are few in business today that were aware of the internet in the days before the advent of DNS, and what a rather useless mess it was.
Of course, the general purpose of domain names isn’t lost on anyone who uses the internet at least semi frequently – a form of address one uses to navigate directly to a given website. Of course, there’s more to it than that, and there are a host of concerns that come with this. These concerns make something like a domain age checker a vital tool for any business to have. To really see why, we need to appreciate domains and understand them a bit better.
We start by taking a look back in time, to the age before the birth of the “world wide web” buzzword, before AOL and Compuserve. That’s right, we must journey back to the 1980s.
It’s a common, and understandable misconception held by many that the internet, outside government and collegiate networks, simply didn’t exist before some time in the early to mid-1990s. This is the result of that being when it first really became part of the public consciousness due in no small part to DNS making it so much easier to use.
This couldn’t be further from the case, however. The internet, as a publicly accessible infrastructure, existed as far back as the early 1980s. With the rise of the early microcomputers (the illustrious Commodore 64, TRS-80, and the giants lesser known outside Europe like the ZX Spectrum), the internet became “a thing” almost immediately.
This was a very different time filled with very different technology. This early internet was still largely used by businesses, financial institutions, universities and government entities. Web pages did not exist – they would have been simply impossible for the bandwidth of the time to serve as well as for the computers of the time to even hope to display.
These early computers had external modems upon which a phone receiver had to be coupled directly. To connect to any “location” on the early net at first required a phone number to be obtained, which was more often than not just someone’s home phone number, with their own computer(s) connected in a similar fashion. Rather than websites, terminal interfaces were used to post and receive messages in this pre-forum age. DOS-like commands browsed folders for files to download to small early hard drives or, more often, floppy disks or tape cassettes.
As time went on, these phone numbers only became necessary to connect to a gateway, which would then act as an intermediary to the growing, always-connected clusters of computers and dedicated servers or mainframes. This made accessing this nascent network much easier to do, but navigating to a specific destination was not really that much simpler a prospect.
Before DNS, one had to know the IP address of a given computer or network, for the gateway to connect them to it. IP (Internet Protocol) addresses consist of four sets of up to three digits, separated by periods. While a single connection allowed access to any number of these addresses, they weren’t themselves any simpler to enter, obtain nor remember than the multiple phone numbers of the prior layout.
DNS (Domain Name Service) was actually invented, and initially implemented in the late 1980s. it was a brilliant concept in its simplicity, and the internet of today would likely not have been able to evolve without it. Simply knowing a dot com or dot net address, for example, is vastly easier than entering what may as well be nuclear launch codes. The question of course is, how does this even work?
The use of IP addresses did not vanish when DNS was adopted as the standard. Rather, DNS just obfuscated the use of IP addresses. The basic concept is actually fairly simple. Somewhere on an internet connection (in the latter days of dial up, the gateway computer, presently the broadband modem) is a setting pointing to a DNS server. There are a great many independent DNS servers that can be used, though at least half the world uses one of Google’s. These servers store domains and the IP(s) they point to, to put it simply.
When a computer or any other device requests to navigate to a domain name, the DNS server then finds the IP(s) associated with it, and a connection between the computer and said IP is attained. It’s the same process used in the 1980s, made simpler by use of plain language addresses in lieu of ridiculous strings of numbers.
Obviously, new domains come into existence all the time as new businesses or private websites are built and launched. These domains must have to be obtained from somewhere, and they must have to be set up somehow. Registering a domain is actually conceptually similar to registering a toll-free number in the United States. A registrar company facilitates finding if a domain is available, and if so, a fee (usually 6 months on up to a couple years in duration) is paid to acquire the domain.
The web host being used usually provides two or more DNS domains (which facilitate the global DNS systems in finding and logging them properly) which the customer then gives to the registrar to “park” the domain. It usually takes between one to two business days for the domain to work, and for all of the DNS servers around the world to be aware that the domain and its host exist. This whole process varies from very simple and painless, to needlessly complex depending on the host provider and registrar of choice.
The key thing to take away from how they are obtained is that they obviously do expire if not renewed. Of course, a domain can be renewed indefinitely if its occupant is willing to continue to pay for ownership of it. However, very valuable domains expire all the time, thus making them available for others to scoop up (often at a much lower price than one might expect). This has led to an interesting new kind of marketplace where enterprising individuals or groups will scoop up expired domains on the cheap, and resell them for a marked-up price.
While some would argue that this kind of “ransoming” of domains is a shady tactic, it’s fully legal and a very common and lucrative practice nonetheless.
With all of that in mind, part of why a domain age checker is so beneficial should be relatively obvious. When a company registers a domain, it’s a given that eventually, this domain will expire. While the registrar will often provide a specific date upon which this will happen, as well as make it possible to check up on this at any time, an age checker tool is far easier to use.
These simplified tools allow a business’ IT department to keep track of what may often be multiple domains belonging to a company. They can then of course be ready to renew the domains the moment they expire, before some enterprising domain resellers can come along and hold the domain ransom.
Of course, these tools are just as useful for a business looking to obtain a domain that’s currently unavailable. It’s a very common circumstance where a domain was registered for a significant time period, which is desirable for a given business to have. The holder of the domain isn’t even using it, their website is never updated or the venture that called for the domain had failed.
With a domain age checker (which will usually provide the expiration time for a domain as well), a company can be ready to pounce on the domain as soon as it becomes available before, again, resellers can gobble it up.
Now, considering there are a number of primary domain extensions (dot com, dot net, dot org and so on) available, it may seem like this shouldn’t be such a pressing issue. If dot com is unavailable for the domain desired, there are plenty of others, right?
That is true – there seems to be no end of extensions available, many of which are actually representative of countries (for example, dot ca represents Canada and so on). In most cases, a business doesn’t even have to have any sort of presence in a given country to register a domain name with said extension, either. Dot tk is popular among those whom can’t afford a top-tier domain due to being free, for example.
The problem with this is how it presents a company. The only time a company looks respectable using a national domain extension is when they’re headquartered in that country. Even then, the lack of a dot net or dot com address still reflects poorly (unfairly so) on a business whishing to be taken seriously.
This results in dot com being the most highly sought-after extension, followed by dot net and dot org in that order. Of course, this also means that they’re the most expensive and the biggest targets resellers will grab when they can. It really can be a battle of wits, timing and strategy to ensure that a good domain name is acquired for a business, and that it’s safely kept in said business’ fold for years to come.
This is where a domain age checker is so important. Knowing when a domain belonging to a business is set to expire helps be ready to keep hold of it. Knowing when a desired domain is about to be available helps a business outrun the resellers.
All that said, though, the resellers have access to at least one domain age checker if not more as well. This means they’re just as armed to run this race as any business great or small. It’s important, nay imperative to remember this. The knowledge provided by an age checker is crucial, but if one isn’t speedy in their actions nor reactions, the resellers will still beat them to the punch. At least with the age checker, the fight is an even and fair one.
One last thing that does bear a little further discussion is the concept of these resellers themselves. Up until now, they’ve been discussed, if not negatively than as a rivaling threat to a business. It’s true, they are rivals to businesses, some counting on a business wanting a domain they’ve snatched badly enough to pay handsomely for it. Many big businesses that didn’t react quickly enough do indeed pay out too.
While there’s no guarantee that this practice is legal in all parts of the world, it is indeed legal in the United States and the EU at the very least. Any businesses or other entities that may have or are now considering dabbling in this market – to do so does not instantly make one unethical. However, simply charging a very tiny percentage of markup for less crucial domains is the way to remain ethical, where ransoming very obviously important domains for vast sums of money is fairly unanimously considered rather objectionable by most.
Either way, whether a business needs to track the lifespan of their domain, track one they wish to obtain, or they’re interested in reselling domains, there is only one way to remain in the know and be responsive enough to achieve either of those three goals. That one way is to have a well-designed, intuitive and effective domain age checker. Don’t rely on registrar sites to be responsive enough and in some cases, even accurate enough on their own. Doing so will end poorly.