Domain name registrars, in case you didn't know, are the companies that manage all the website domain names you'll see (EG: Inc.com) - the fingerprint of your business, which may also include the hosting and privacy measures. For example, by default many companies will actually over-price the simple process of keeping your registration information private (which if it isn't can be found via a simple Whois search).
Note that you can also transfer your domain name from one registration service to another. You'll want to do this if you're not satisfied with your current domain hosting service, if you find a better deal when your current registration is coming due, or, most likely, if you've signed up with a web hosting service that will also transfer your name to its site. Expect to get the transfer for free, but if that isn't offered, search for another domain hosting service.
ICANN renewed Verisign’s .com contract, this time with an interesting new clause — the $6 cap previously placed on Verisign’s fee was removed, granting permission for Verisign to raise their fee by 7% each year from 2007 to 2010, bringing it to $7.85. The justification given by ICANN was “to allow market forces to determine prices”, which I don’t quite follow, but I’m no Keynes. They also point out, in subtler language, that it’s the US government’s job to worry about Verisign’s monopoly, which is, I guess, fair.
While looking at domains, you might come across the name "ICANN" -- the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. This organization accredits some registrars that agree to a set of operational standards, but ICANN accreditation isn't required to sell domains, nor is it necessarily a sign of a company with good customer service. In fact, ICANN plays no role in the sale of many top-level domains, including country-specific domains.
Hostwinds remains a user-friendly option for registration and hosting, even if you're transferring from another service. It lists out all the extensions to create your domain name with prices to register, transfer, or renew for each extension, unlike some services that bury these within the website. You simply enter the domain name you want and check the availability, and can theoretically get going in a few clicks (if it's available or taken). It will then tell you if it is available or taken. They've also got live chat, email, and phone technical support before purchase too, which is rather rare.
More controversially, the new agreement guaranteed the renewal of Verisign’s contract in 2012 unless they were in “fundamental breach” of their obligations as a registry. A similar presumptive renewal clause in the 2012 agreement recently sealed Verisign’s control over .com until 2024. This kind of arrangement, ICANN say, incentivises registries to make long-term investments in infrastructure that benefit the Internet community.
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Web hosting services, on the other hand, run servers that are typically assigned only one or a few addresses while serving websites for many domains, a technique referred to as virtual web hosting. Such IP address overloading requires that each request identifies the domain name being referenced, for instance by using the HTTP request header field Host:, or Server Name Indication.
SnapNames is a web domain name marketplace - meaning that they only deal specifically with domains that are currently owned by somebody else. They offer daily and premium auctions, private brokerage of domains, and buy-it-now listings for buying and selling domain names, including over 30 million domain names that aren't all, as you'll find on some services, exorbitant. They have over three million customers, including a significant number of small businesses, which is worth it.
I’ve tried to be charitable to Verisign in my reading of Site-Finder-gate. Even then it seems quite clear that they were deep within the grey areas of their contract with ICANN, and that they knowingly acted against the spirit of the Internet that they’d been entrusted to build. That said, I respect the hustle — Verisign were, and continue to be, a publicly traded company with a responsibility to deliver value to their shareholders, and this quasi-bait-and-switch was a pretty inspired way to do it.
Critics often claim abuse of administrative power over domain names. Particularly noteworthy was the VeriSign Site Finder system which redirected all unregistered .com and .net domains to a VeriSign webpage. For example, at a public meeting with VeriSign to air technical concerns about SiteFinder, numerous people, active in the IETF and other technical bodies, explained how they were surprised by VeriSign's changing the fundamental behavior of a major component of Internet infrastructure, not having obtained the customary consensus. SiteFinder, at first, assumed every Internet query was for a website, and it monetized queries for incorrect domain names, taking the user to VeriSign's search site. Unfortunately, other applications, such as many implementations of email, treat a lack of response to a domain name query as an indication that the domain does not exist, and that the message can be treated as undeliverable. The original VeriSign implementation broke this assumption for mail, because it would always resolve an erroneous domain name to that of SiteFinder. While VeriSign later changed SiteFinder's behaviour with regard to email, there was still widespread protest about VeriSign's action being more in its financial interest than in the interest of the Internet infrastructure component for which VeriSign was the steward.