Teaching co-workers about domains!

“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”
― Aristotle

This past week I was once again at Auttomattic’s annual Grand Meetup (GM). For the second year in a row, it was held in scenic Whistler, British Columbia, Canada – a truly magnanimous experience, cradled in a bowl of nature’s beauty.

The GM is an opportunity for all 600+ Automatticians (what we call ourselves) to make new connections, spend time with work friends, work on projects, learn from one another in classes, and bond as freedom fighters who strive to democratize publishing to the web. Each Automattician has a different experience at the GM. It depends on one’s personality, team, role, interests, and desire to learn and meet others. Truly, I believe like most other things in life, we get out of the GM what we put into it.

Alongside my normal GM and team activities, I was also asked to teach a 15-hour class on domains and emcee our closing party. Both are exciting and challenging. The odd thing is I have extensively more experience working with domains. Having emceed a few events in my lifetime, I have only spoken in front of a few hundred people at one time. Despite this imbalance, as I prepared for both, I felt much more comfortable emceeing than teaching the one subject I can arguably be considered an expert in.

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“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
― William Arthur Ward

Earlier in the week I was asked what I was going to do at the GM – a project, a class or my own job? I said I was teaching a class on domains. A fellow Automattician asked, “is there enough material about domains to teach for 15 hours”? That question confirmed one of my fears about teaching domains. Most people, even in tech, have little idea of the breadth and complexity of domains. My response was a polite, “certainly” but my inner dialogue was screaming, “Are you kidding me? I can speak for weeks on DNS alone?”

There is the multi-layered food chain consisting of ICANN, Registry, Registrar, Reseller, and Registrant. Policy and compliance through ICANN is akin to having a seat at the United Nations. The technical intricacies of domains are, well…have you ever tried explaining how the DNS works? (…..Zzzzzz…). And there are things like WhoIS, domaining, lifecycle, drop catch, auctions just to name a few other topics. The terminology and acronyms alone are enough to make learning Mandarin seem easy.

“In learning, you will teach, and in teaching, you will learn.”
― Phil Collins

So how do you teach a subject like domains that is wide, deep, and dare I say, dry?

It is like building a house. You focus on building a solid foundation from which everything else is anchored, keep the design interesting and challenging, while the actual work fun. For domains, you must be passionate about the industry, have engaging stories that are interesting and relatable, and create an interactive space that bridges abstract concepts with physical and tangible activities.

Oh, and plenty of patience!

How much should you pay for a website?

Well, that depends. But for small business owners who provide services and not products to sell online, it shouldn’t be $6,084/yr. That is exactly how much my brother, a physiotherapist, was recently quoted by a very well-known listing company and all he wants is a simple brochure site. Here is what they tried to sell him.website

Online Products

  • Website – Management fee – $110 / mo
  • Sponsored Placement – Online Positioning with Logo, with Call Tracking – $159 / mo
  • Mobile Sponsored Placement – Prestige, with Call Tracking – $72 / mo

Print Products

  • White page listing – $0.00 / mo
  • Service regular listing (heading 1)- $0.00 / mo

Advertising Contact

  • Service regular listing (regular) – $0.00 / mo
  • White page listing (town) – $0.00 / mo
  • Service regular listing (heading 2) – $0.00 / mo
  • Illustrated Ad, 2 Columns, ½ page (heading 3) – $166 / mo

My brother lives in a small town in Eastern Canada with a population of 3,000 where he has a physiotherapy clinic. He also has another small part-time clinic in a nearby town with a population of 9,000.  He provides a service and does not require anything more than a simple brochure site. He is very good at what he does and so almost all his business comes from referrals and word-of-mouth. We discussed having an online appointment book and health questionnaire but he feels his clientele are much more small-town-personal and less technically capable, so it isn’t required at this time.

When he first approached me for advice on this I instinctively laughed at the quotation.  My brother did not. It was at that very moment I realized there are still some web development and hosting companies out there preying on honest, hard-working, small business owners who aren’t overly web-savvy.

I advised my brother to pass on this and I offered to build him a nice shiny new WordPress site, complete with email, SEO, backup, etc…all for a bottle of scotch.

When he informed the listing company of his decision not to renew his service (yes, he was with them for years…did I forget to mention that?) and have me build and manage his site, the salesperson took one last shot at keeping his business. She used an old-school sales tactic, ‘confusion and fear’ as if their quote with ‘free’ services wasn’t confusing enough – aren’t most of the print and advertising services they listed free anyway? She asked, “Will your new site be responsive? Will it keep up with Google’s algorithm changes? How will people find you?”

My brother knows every single muscle, tendon, and bone in the human body, including what they are used for but things like responsive websites and Google’s algorithm is nothing he needs to know. As for how will people find him?  Well, it isn’t in a paper book of company listings, that’s for sure.

When the sales person finally gave up she promptly took down his site, weeks before his current contract was to expire.

Well done, listing company!  How to run a company into the ground 101: Overcharge your clients and when they want to leave, kick them on the way out the door.

How Mom Taught Me The Importance Of A Good Domain Name

My Mom turned 77 this past January and she isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.  She is vibrant, strong, independent and quite honestly the nicest person I know, always willing to lend a hand. I am not even sure ‘no’ is in her vocabulary. Family means everything to Mom but unfortunately several of my siblings and I had to move away from Newfoundland for school and eventually work. For Mom, Newfoundland is home. It is not only where much of our family still lives, but where she grew up and was lucky enough to live her entire life.  I say ‘lucky’ because Newfoundland never had the bustling economy of some of Canada’s other provinces but for us Newfies it is the best place in the world.

So, with 5 children and 11 grandkids spread out from Newfoundland to Texas, Mom has turned to technology to keep in touch. It started with a home computer and skype about 10 years ago. It was amazing to watch her find her way around technology and how much I learned from observing and supporting her – encouragement too, but more like this:

Mom: How do I use this thing?
Me: What thing?
Mom: This thingamajig in my hand.
Me: A mouse?
Mom: Where? (frantically lifting her feet off the ground)

Downloading and installing software? That was unheard of for Mom back then. Now she talks to her ISP and helps troubleshoot basic issues with them. She has even graduated to a smart phone. It is an ongoing and often frustrating journey but she is getting there!

Yes, technology has evolved to make our lives easier and software simplified to be more intuitive…though there is still a long, long way to go. That is for a future post.

(back to Mom)

The one thing Mom still hasn’t mastered is using Google to search for a particular website. If she is looking for information or an item to buy, Google works fine for her.  But trying to find a specific website through search is a challenge.  She is certainly not alone.  Unless you understand what keywords you need to enter to find it, searching Google can be ineffective and downright frustrating.  That is why there are thousands upon thousands of articles about how to use search engines.

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Mom loves to quilt. She is amazing at it too. She had made one for each family member and many more for friends. Her designs can be simple or elaborate and everything in between. Before the internet, she relied on patterns at drapery stores. Now she can find ideas and even patterns online. When Mom and her Quilties (that is what I call her quilting friends) get together they chat about everything under the sun, including a little small town gossip. But the topic of quilting always makes its way back into the conversation. They like to share information on it. And when a Quilty talks about a quilting website, the others in the group grab a pen and paper and that Quilty reads the web address off of a piece of paper she had tucked in her overstuffed purse. I chuckled at the idea of writing down a web address…until I analyzed the domains.  They were filled with obscure names, words, dashes, slashes and long enough to make you forget what you were doing in the first place.

Mom’s memory is fine and when I said to her “check out my new blog at don.blog”, she knew exactly what to do and it didn’t involve a pen.

P.S. Hi Mom!

A Letter to ICANN

Dear ICANN,

I have been attending your meetings for a few years. Up until now, my attendance was primarily for commercial purposes but ICANN 58 was my first as an active participant into policy. Thank you for welcoming me and my colleagues to Copenhagen. We met wonderful people, ate incredible food, and enjoyed the beautiful city, when not sitting in your meetings. Though having us race between sessions due to scheduling overlap was a nice touch to keep us active and prevent us from nodding off. Good job!

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Your hospitality was wonderful. It is always nice to see the hundreds of millions of our revenue dollars at work. I particularly liked the fact that your staff looked so rested and comfortable. It is important to take care of your staff. Having them all stay at the venue hotel, filling it up first, while many attendees taxied or illegally Ubered kilometers away must have helped your staff out tremendously. But probably not as much as the comfy ‘ICANN Staff Only’ lounge in the conference center. I especially liked where it was situated, in a glass room overlooking the main area where attendees congregated and could glance up or walk by and get a firsthand experience into your transparency policy. It truly looked amazing inside, especially the all-day pile of fresh snacks and refreshments. The three snack tables you provided at timed intervals for the thousands of other attendees must have been delicious because the snacks certainly didn’t last long and the staff dismantled the stations efficiently and effectively precisely when snack time adjourned.

While I was there I did hear a few negative things about you that concerned me. One was your overuse of acronyms. To be honest, I am not sure where this was coming from. When I heard, “…the GAC asked the ICANN GSNO about the NOM-COMM while the IGO in the PDP who filed an UDRP/URS, found that groups in the BC violated the RRA changes proposed by the RySG and supported by the RrSG…” I wasn’t confused but gravely concerned. I am sure I was not alone.

I also overheard an attendee compare you to another non-profit organization, FIFA (I love football!). But don’t worry, I had your back. I told that person it was totally unfair because not only has FIFA been corrupted, but you only have $400,000,000 in assets and made $200,000,000 in revenue last year, both of which are reasonable for a non-profit, right? And as for diversity, I think the person who said you are not diverse obviously did not see the 4 women on your Board of Director’s web page of 20 people.

Thanks again, ICANN.  If you would like some feedback on what I think can be improved for ICANN59 in Johannesburg please let me know and I will put some thought behind it for you.

Yours truly,

ICANN Attendee

NamesCon, Thank you!

Recently, I returned from NamesCon in Las Vegas. After dragging my butt around the house for several days as my body calibrated back into a normal functioning human state, and the second-hand smoke and first-hand advice I received at the craps tables expelled through my pores, I was left with an unexpected feeling of satisfaction. A far cry from the “why-did-I-stay-that-extra-night” feeling following previous years.

But I couldn’t pinpoint why I felt such a level of fulfillment, so I put my 25 year old psyche 101 course to work and explored my inner self to find out. My mental sleuthing wasn’t overly complex, but it did require a glass a rye and some Miles Davis to kick start it.

I quickly realized despite having attended this event two out of its three previous years, this one was much different. You could feel it in the air. It was palpable.

After several hours of the melodic, introspective and intimacy of Miles’ horn and the few fingers of rye, of course, I had it narrowed down. Was this overwhelming positive effect of the event due to any of the following?

  1. This year I was a sponsor, as opposed to just another hungover attendee.
  2. Last year I was with a registrar, this year a registry and the new and exciting .blog extension.
  3. The calibre of speakers like Matt Mullenweg of Automattic and Elliot Noss of Tucows.
  4. The fact that the industry is diversifying. I have been going to industry events for many, many years and for the most part I would see the same faces. This year many new faces and more women attendees, which is always good to see.
  5. This year I walked with $100 USD to the good. Previous years I left with lint, a headache, and many times poorer than when I arrived.

It might have been any of these reasons, I thought. Then it hit me like the first time I heard Davis and Coltrane play together. The reason this NamesCon felt so special was because it was so special.

This marked the end of an era. Most likely it was the last show for all current NamesCon founders and team members as we know it since NamesCon was sold to WHD in the fall.

And so they went all out, putting on the best show yet. I raise my not yet empty glass to Richard, Jothan, James, Terri and the rest of the team for making this NamesCon a most memorable one.  Thank you!

P.S. WHD you have BIG shoes to fill.

Does your domain need an upgrade?

Is it time for your blog to get a domain name upgrade? Does your online brand need a reboot? Are your navigational signposts pointing the wrong way? If so, then it might be time to upgrade your web address.

Corporations have been rebranding for years. Why? Because it works. Market conditions change – products evolve, technology advances, internationalization expands, competition increases and brands simply become outdated. What was once a thriving market for your wonderful words of wisdom and daily doses of feel-good anecdotes has become stalled and crowded. The one-time steady tsunami of loyal followers is nothing more than a sustainable tide of ebbs and flows that might fuel your ad network today but without any future assurances.

Products Evolve – Many bloggers have diversified their content. As they have grown so has the breadth of the content they post. So much so that their web address is no longer intuitive or meaningful. ‘Whattopackforlunch’ might have started as a parent site for feeding young kids, but along the way has evolved into a gourmet recipe blog for dinners, holiday feasts, and entertaining guests.

Technology Advances – Not that long ago selecting a domain name was reduced to lengthy and sometimes hyphenated words with unnecessary qualifiers and misspellings. This was a result of lack of choice. These long and unrelatable online identities are a thing of the past. Now there are over 1000 new domain extensions to choose from, including .blog, with search engines (like Google and Bing) that treat them exactly like a .com. Remember, all else being equal, ‘skatingtips.blog’ is more likely to rank better than ‘thebesttipsforskating.com’.

Internationalization Expands – Many blogs fail to grow simply due to lack of reach, focusing on the same geographic area. Internet usage is expanding worldwide. Your web address might be holding you back from capitalizing on this growth and tapping into a new market. You need an identity that is not only short and memorable but one that transcends many languages and cultures. ‘Gift’ means ‘poison’ in German. See where I am going?

Competition Increases – Remember when you were one of a handful of people posting about finding the perfect baby bottle? Now there are tens of thousands of bloggers writing about the same things, fighting for the same audience. Isn’t it time to standout, above the crowd, with a better web address than ‘mommy-sometimes-knows-best-4u’?

Brands Become Outdated – Sometimes brands just become outdated and a refresh with a new address is ideal for a reboot and marketing push. Using a nickname in your domain like the ‘italianstallionsaysso’ probably isn’t going to cut it if you want to grow beyond the 223 followers you currently have.

What is a domain…huh?

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Last weekend (Dec. 2nd – 4th) I attended WordCamp US in Philadelphia as a sponsor of the event for .blog. Our excitement was palpable. Not only was this our first event since launching .blog to the general public on November 21st, it was also an introduction to a sophisticated audience familiar with blogging and domains.

After carefully setting up our booth and strategically placing our cool swag where attendee engagement would be highest, it was time to get to work. The doors opened and people rolled in, not as a tsunami but more like a gentle wave of enthusiastic attendees.

As we engaged, the first question from our wide-eyed guests peering at our freshly displayed backdrop was, “so, what is .blog?”

To many people from the domains industry it is a simple question with a simple answer. Everybody knows what a domain extension is, right? Ok, maybe not, but without getting technical, surely everybody knows a domain is a unique web address, right?

To test my theories and benchmark end-user knowledge of new TLDs, the new .blog domain extension, and domains in general, I conducted experiments throughout the two-day event by responding differently to the question, “so, what is .blog?”

I started with answers like “it’s a new domain extension” or “it’s a top-level domain” or “have you heard of .club and .online?” Resoundingly, the common answer was “huh?” or “no”, followed by the deer-in-the-headlights effect or the I-see-a-friend-I-must-go-now response. I followed up with statements like “you know that ‘thing’ you type into your browser bar to get to a specific website? Well, that is a web address and it does not have to end with dot com.” At this point I could see the wheels turning.

Then I tested something I recently read regarding habits and behaviour. I paired .blog with something familiar (.com) accompanied by examples. I said, “so you know youtube dot com?”  They of course did. I followed it with “well, that could instead be youtube dot blog.” The eureka moment! The lights went on, followed by ear-to-ear grins. I then followed it up with “.blog is like .com but it is targeted to bloggers, corporate blogs and all content creators.” This is when I received the all approving head nods.

Throughout the event, I discovered something very surprising…when asking an audience ‘what a domain is’, no matter how highly technical and sophisticated they are, unless they work directly with domains most people cannot accurately define them. Many people describe a domain as a website or they feel .com by itself is a domain. Specifically for .blog, many people think it is a platform for blogging. And overwhelmingly surprising, not many people have heard of new TLDs in general.

Generally speaking, if a WordCamp audience has never heard of new TLDs or are not quite clear what a domain is, then as an industry two things needs to happen. First, marketers must learn how to communicate with targeted end users far less technical than any WordCamp attendee. Second, education of domains/web address and new TLDs has a long way to go, but it is imperative that we get started right away.