04 March, 2009

Don't Buy My Domain! An Epilogue

The story so far: I put up an old domain for auction. Fourteen months later, it sold. A month after that, I got paid.

It’s an odd thing, but you never forget a domain that you once owned. I have registered dozens over the past few years. Some I developed. Some I registered for other people, and helped them to develop. And others, I let slip through my fingers.

As a case in point, a decade ago I was called upon to register a domain for a how-to article for PC World. At the domain registrar (Register.com, if I remember correctly), I typed the first thing that came to mind--my own name--and found the domain was available. I registered it, but I never intended to waste good money and time actually developing it. It expired a year later, and it's had one careful owner ever since. (I assume he has the same name as me.) I still check back on that site from time to time to see how it suits him. Frankly, it fits him better than it ever fit me.

So over the 16 months that have passed since an entrepreneur in Pune, India, bought a domain from me at auction, I have checked back periodically to see what's going on. I have an intellectual curiosity, of course, but I also have a mild tinge of paranoia—I originally registered that domain along with one other for a side business of mine, and I’m wondering if I sold a plum domain name to a rival who’ll take away my business.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Every time I have visited the site, the same sight met my eyes: an Under Construction sign. I’m not a great businessman myself (I flogged my only cyber-asset for the price of a dinner and a night in a three-star airport hotel), but I somehow expected my buyer to have grand plans. I almost hoped for a worthy rival who would spur me on to great heights in my side-business. But it was not to be. In fact, last week when I pumped the URL into my browser Address bar, nothing happened. There was no Under Construction site. There was nothing.

I nipped over to my favorite state-of-the-domain site, BetterWHOIS.com, where anyone can check up on the status of any domain. There it was in black and white: The domain I sold 16 months ago had expired on January 19th. It was in a status called RedemptionPeriod.

The end of life for a domain is a complicated procedure. Like all things to do with the domain name space, it’s regulated by ICANN—the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. After a domain name expires, the registrar (in this case, GoDaddy) has 45 days to notify the owner that their domain name is going to be dropped from the registry. This seldom happens by accident—most registrars default to an automatic renewal setting. But if the domain name is dropped, ICANN guidelines call for a 30-day grace period during which the owner can reclaim it. After this grace period, there’s another holding period, after which the name is dropped from the registry and anyone can claim it.

I’ve had dealings with GoDaddy for years, and they can sometimes be a bit slow about things. It took them more than a month to pass the payment over to me, for example. So I have no idea how long it’ll take them to release the expired domain. Conventional wisdom says the term is 30 days plus a 5 day holding period, but they’re already more than two weeks past that. Another piece of conventional wisdom is that the registrars don’t let anyone know when they’re releasing domains because there are sharks circling in the pool that expired domains drop into.

The domain drop pool is full of drop-catchers—professional domain speculators looking for saleable domains. You could hire one to snap up an about-to-drop domain if you were desperate to get it. In fact, GoDaddy will gladly charge you $80 for the service. I considered hiring them on for about three seconds. But that service is too pricey and too speculative for my tastes. Besides, it has a faint whiff of conflict of interest to me.

So I’m going to wait for the domain drop to happen and take my chances. But just to be on the safe side, I will continue NOT to tell you the name of the domain I’ve been blogging about all this time. I don’t want to fight with any of you over this thing. We’ve got too much history together.

But as usual, I'll keep you posted with any developments.

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