Best Addressed

August 24th, 2002 How - To, Sydney Morning Herald, Tech

You’ve done it — you’ve taught yourself web design and created your online masterpiece. The last thing you want is a URL like http://www.homepages.australiasbiggestispname.net.au/membersarea/~mynewwebpage/index.html

You want an address that’s cool and easy to remember. But if the who, what and how much of domain name registration seems like a minefield and you haven’t a clue where to start, relax — you can have www.prettymuchwhateveryouwant.com for less than A$40.

Check your choice

First, you have to make sure the domain you want isn’t taken. The rules are different if your site is part of your business, but for personal users, the world of Internet domains is a first in, best dressed free for all.

Use your favourite search engine to look for ‘whois’, a popular Internet utility which not only tells you whether the domain you want is taken, but sometimes lists the contact details of the owner. Simply type in the name and suffix (.com, .net etc) you’re interested in and away you go.

If you’re out of luck, some sites suggest alternatives (such as http://www.netsol.com/en_US/name-it/index.jhtml). Otherwise you might want to contact the owner and make an offer. Remember that Internet domains are a true commodity, worth whatever you’re willing to pay for them (keep the famous case of Altavista in mind, who finally shelled out almost US$3.5 million for altavista.com after someone pipped them at the post).

To ISP or not to ISP?

Once you’ve settled on the name you want, it’s time to register it. Unless you want to convert currency and deal with an overseas company (which you may want to — like computers, everything Internet-related seems cheaper in the US, even given exchange rates), you have a few options registering your domain name locally.

Your ISP will no doubt offer domain registration services as part of their hosting packages. Have a look around their site for pricelists and what’s included. Domain names incur a charge every year or two, depending on the level (ie .com vs .com.au etc), whereas hosting is usually charged monthly. Bear in mind that when you upload your site to the free space with your ISP, that’s when you end up with a homepage URL like a Star Trek stardate, but that’s easy to get around (see ‘cheating’)

To simply register your domain and nothing more, use an Australian search engine like yahoo.com.au or webwombat.com.au and search for ‘domain name registration’ to find a local registrar you like the look of.

The Price

Unlike a car or a house, a domain name is created out of nothing. Melbourne IT (the only force commercialising Internet domain names in the early days who are about to lose their monopoly) set the figure of $120 per year for a .com.au name, and just like houses and cars, prices are constantly steadying between supply and demand. Don’t expect to pay more than $50 for a .com domain, depending on what other services (such as hosting) are included.

Who do you call?

Buying a domain name is the same as any other online purchase — once you’ve chosen a registrar, fill in their online forms and wait for their receipt to be emailed to you and the charge to appear on your credit card.

If the thought of shopping online still gives you jitters, the golden rule is simply to shop the same way you would offline — if you’re happy with the price and confident of a company’s professionalism and contact availability, look no further.

Large, full-service companies like Melbourne IT and Netregistry.com.au are comprehensive with lots of pricey extras geared to business users, but there are dozens of small ones. After searching, choose a small, lean service with no frills. A good example is ultra-cheap bloodycheapdomains.com, who have easy-to-use registration forms and are backed by strong processing systems.

Hosting

Hosting your site (where a company holds your files on their server, enabling access to your site over the web) costs money, but you don’t need to pay someone to host your personal site when there’s so much free web hosting in the world. You probably already have some without even realising it.

Depending on the size and range of services of your ISP, your Internet access account probably includes free space on their server (anything from 2-50Mb, more than enough for the average user site).

If not, perform a search for ‘free web hosting’ or ‘free web space’. Again you’ll be presented with a bevy of choice. You’ll still have an unwieldy URL and another potential downside — which might not bother you — is that you’ll probably have a banner ad on each of your pages (the way free hosts make their money).

Getting it there

If you choose a free web server, you’ll have to fill out an online form that will produce some login details. If you’re going with your ISP, look around their site or call them to see what your URL and login details will be (they were assigned on commencement of your account). Your login will usually be an ftp (file transfer protocol) address, login name and password.

FTP clients (the software used to upload and download files to a server) such as cuteFTP, Bulletproof (PC) or Fetch (Mac) are easy to find and download (see shareware.com or macdownload.com), and transferring site files to your server is as easy as dragging and dropping. Some professional level web design packages such as Dreamweaver even have a built-in FTP client.

Cheating

Another alternative is to use your preferred ISP or free server and keep your mile long URL, but register your domain name and have it ‘point to’ your existing homepage — a process of managing name servers. Even if you change ISPs your domain will still work. Take someone from your IT department to lunch, talk to your ISP helpdesk or use a web-based domain management service such as www.createmydomain.com.

Domain name registration is as full of scams as the used car industry, but if you use common sense, don’t commit to anything you don’t understand and shop around, you’ll have the coolest web address of all your friends faster than it takes to read theirs aloud.


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