7.8 Mastering Your Domain

To the extent that such things are ownable, I own the Internet domain dangillmor.com. (I also own gillmor.com and a bunch of other domains including Mediactive.com, the website that hosts this project.)

What’s a domain? It’s your address on the Internet. Actually, it’s a translation from a series of numbers—dangillmor.com is actually—that computers recognize via a series of cooperative agreements that have been established over the years. Without the Domain Name System, or DNS, the Net wouldn’t work.

You don’t need to care much about that. All you need to do is find a registrar: a company that registers your preferred domain name for an annual fee. Registrars abound, including big companies like Yahoo! that offer registration as one of many products, big registrars like Network Solutions and smaller firms like Tucows’ Hover.com service. As with all kinds of businesses, cheap is not always synonymous with good. Several registrars have gone out of business in recent years, causing major headaches for their customers. Wikipedia offers a list of widely used registrars.

What’s the best domain name? Your own name, for most people. If you can get the domain that goes FirstnameLastname.com, you should. If you have an uncommonly spelled name, there’s a very good chance you can get it. If it’s a common name, that’s harder, but you can try for a .net or .org domain, or one of many others in the marketplace.

But you may want an entirely different kind of domain name, one that reflects a particular interest. How can you find a good one? Contrary to popular belief, all the good domains are not already taken. True, I got gillmor.com back in the early days of the Web (and stupidly didn’t nail down others that turned out to be valuable, because I lacked the imagination to realize what a marketplace domain names would become). But in 2008, when I was looking for a good domain name for the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, the name startupmedia.org was available.

I’m agnostic about whether you need to be a dot-com—that is, have an address that ends with “.com”—or whether it’s just as good to use .org (typically for non-profits), .net or another so-called “top-level” domain. There are all kinds of these available now, including .me, aimed at personal sites. For now I’d suggest sticking with the major ones. (I’d avoid .info, which seems to be a spammer favorite.)

If you have an idea for a domain, the easiest way to see if it’s already taken is to visit the registrar and attempt to obtain it. You’ll know immediately if someone else has it. Some registrars offer suggestions, including related names. But my favorite way to come up with a domain name is to use one of the clever Web services that let you play with words and names, mixing and matching until you’ve discovered something that works. One of my favorites is NameStation.com, which lets you play with a variety of combinations until you find something you like, and also checks its availability.

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