Hey, Internet domain overlords, stop playing games

Internet domain maintenance shouldn't have to be such a pain in the ass

Hey, Internet domain overlords, stop playing games
Credit: Andrew Hart

For whatever cosmic reason, some industries are sleazier than others. It's nowhere written that used car salesmen must come off as con men, but many do. Timeshare resorts don’t need to be festering with over-the-top high-pressure sales types, but most are. There are still companies that do door-to-door sales, and their reps often carry a sizable "ick" factor wherever they go. Naturally, quite a few large industries are equally as underhanded, but do a better job of hiding it, like the music industry.

In IT, we generally don’t see this type of business. Big software houses and hardware manufacturers and their sales organizations are generally straightforward. The prices may be high for enterprise-level gear, but the support had better be good or customers will go elsewhere. A large part of IT is so complicated and so often derived from specific niche skill sets that manufacturer support isn’t usually optional, but a requirement -- and that’s where these companies make their profits. It’s in their best interests to provide stellar service and support for a solid price.

But this morning I was reminded of an industry within IT that has been cultivating a high sleaze factor for many years now: domain registrars. 

As I made a cup of coffee, I had a call on my home line from GoDaddy, which has called my house no fewer than 16 times so far this year. Many years ago I registered a few domains with the company, and I've helped out a few friends that used it for their domains. I still have several active domains registered through GoDaddy, primarily because they were cheap enough to not bother with the hassle of transfers.

In addition to GoDaddy, I had a pile of domains registered through Network Solutions. I registered many of these domains back in the 1990s when NetSol was the only game in town. Because I registered them for the maximum time period, they’ve stayed with Network Solutions through inertia and indifference. 

Frankly, domain maintenance is a pain in the ass if you have any significant number of domains. Some registrars, like GoDaddy and Network Solutions, seem driven to make this maintenance even more annoying.

We’ve come to expect that certain Internet companies will use obfuscation or trickery to mislead their customers into clicking on ads or accepting offers. We’ve all tried to download a file or an application, only to be confronted with a page containing no fewer than four Download buttons, none of them related to the file we’re seeking. We’ve waded through pages that are 95 percent advertising or scam offers to find the information we actually need. I normally cast muttered aspersions against those who think this is a suitable business model and move on. 

Yet the general consensus about registrars is the same: You have to hunt for the tools to register and manage a domain name, and all the while you’re bombarded with upsell offers with enormous accept buttons and tiny “No thanks” links. It’s a sleazy game, and way too many registrars play it to maximum volume.

I recently had to renew two domains that I’d registered with Network Solutions for ages. The company has always seemed a bit shady, even when it was the sole registrar on the Internet. It was expensive. It  censored domain names. It was the center of a huge controversy over domain front-running, where it would register or reserve a domain name as soon as someone searched for it, block it from being registered anywhere else, and charge a premium for the name.

And of course, there was that fun WebLock disaster a few years ago. Oh, and let’s not forget that Network Solutions was owned by VeriSign, the company that gave us the abomination that was Site Finder. For a service as critical as domain name registration, it’s disturbing to see how many bad ideas and how much controversy surround many of the companies involved in this market.

In any event, I waded into Network Solutions' Web management portal and determined that the domains would expire in about 10 days, but I could renew them for $35 per year. I laughed and began looking for the transfer option to another registrar -- in this case, NameCheap. Starting the transfer out of NetSol was a decidedly nonobvious process that was clearly designed to deceive, with both positive and negative confirmation required in places, and finally a plea to stay, offering the same renewal for $10. There were dire warnings presented that promised death and pestilence if I pushed on with the transfer and finally a grudging confirmation that the transfer request had been received -- and would take three days to get the auth code via email.

All in all, it took me a full seven days to transfer two domains, and that’s with instantaneous confirmation on my part at the various verification steps. There’s absolutely no legitimate reason why this process should be so fraught with misdirection and delay. Even with necessarily strict verification procedures, a domain transfer shouldn't take seven to 10 days to complete.

Now back to GoDaddy: After repeated phone calls and other annoyances, I've decided it’s time to slog through the transfer process to another registrar. A quick look at GoDaddy's portal suggests it's not quite as heavy-handed in the upsells on renewals as it used to be, but it still requires opting out of dozens and dozens of add-ons between typing in a domain name and being able to purchase it new.

Perhaps the questionable practices of Network Solutions trickled down over the years. For whatever reason, the domain registration and maintenance business has a deservedly greasy reputation that every registrar should want to shed -- but it seems they have little motivation to do so. Maybe if more folks started moving to registrars that hold themselves to a higher standard, it would change. I won’t hold my breath.

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