I’ve spent a month being super-nice to all the registry operator candidates, praising them for what they do well. That’s fine, because for the most part they are good people doing their best to deliver a decent product. And there’s good information in each of the posts in this series, so I’m happy to have done them. I’m glad it’s over, though, my critical abilities were starting to turn into elevator music.
For easy reference, you can download a printable PDF of the results.
Now, gloves off. If you’re looking for a registry provider it’s not that helpful to hear that they’re all nice people. You’re going to end up with one of these groups, and it will be the single most important commercial relationship your TLD has. You need to make a good choice.
In that spirit, here’s a checklist of things to do and consider when you’re choosing a registry operator.
- Different registry operators have different strengths and different characters. .WORLDDOMINATION is going to want a different registry operator than .WORLDPEACE. Find someone who is sympatico with you and your goals. Meet them, socialize with them. Your registry operator fees will be your most significant cost-of-goods-sold, and it will be very hard to switch later. So please make sure you trust them and you feel that you have good communication with them. You’ll need it.
- Plan for inexperience. As a competitive field, this one is very new. In many areas, these companies are going to be making things up as they go along. There will be delays, screw-ups, and do-overs; half-truths, silences, and excuses. Expect them and plan for them. Build lots of wiggle room into your budgets and schedules.
- To minimize your risk, try to understand what a registry operator does and then project-manage the roll-out from your end as well as, or instead of, relying on them to manage the process.
- Your TLD roll-out is critical, so don’t neglect the services provided during this period. You want a contract that not only guarantees uptime for resolution services (likely to be standard), but also roll-out dates; ability to correctly apply business rules to new registrations (e.g., the “nexus requirement” for .US); timely and error-free Sunrise and Landrush periods, and so on.
- If the registry operator you choose hasn’t managed a Sunrise Period before, hire a consultant who has. This period has very little to do with DNS and domain names, and a lot to do with trademarks, trademark law, and semi-manual verification procedures, all of which lie well outside the normal expertise of domain name people. This period will be your introduction to the public; make sure it goes smoothly by getting some practical expertise on your side.
- Negotiate. There is likely to be considerable flexibility on price as companies try to gain market share. Get a good price or trade higher prices for more of something else, for instance investment in your TLD, or additional services.
- Honestly evaluate your own technical expertise. If you don’t have any, you need to get a minimal education just to be able to supervise your registry operator. Go absorb DNS and Bind from O’Reilly. It looks daunting, but the first few chapters are pitched at a general audience and are very instructive. In the end, you don’t have to know how to make a zone file, but you do need to know what a zone file is.
- Cross your “T”s and dot your “I”s. Get a signed NDA before you disclose what your TLD is. You may want to amend your standard NDA to include a non-competition clause. Several registry operators are also starting their own TLDs, so make sure you’re not alerting a competitor to what you’re doing, even as you remain unaware about their plans.
- No registry operator is going to change your chances of getting ICANN approval, unless they’re so bad you’re disqualified. I believe the process will be fair in this regard. So don’t believe any little hints that anyone can give you an “insider” advantage. What someone familiar with ICANN can do, however, is help you interpret ICANN’s sometimes cryptic utterances, alert you to important information may have been announced in an obscure way, know the people in ICANN who can answer questions, and so on.
Thanks for taking the time to read through our registry operator speed-dating series. I hope it has been of some help. Much of the credit for this series goes to Jothan Frakes, who made it all happen at the ICANN meeting.
I’ll be taking on auction providers next. Auctions are likely to be a part of most TLD launches, so stay tuned!