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Welcome to my new Blog!

It has been a long, long while since I have had a blog. I used to blog years ago but the primary reason was to feed the creative side of my brain while entertaining some friends – not much substance but plenty of laughs. Screenwriting overtook my blog as the creative outlet for many years, though that too has been a few years back (oh my, how time has passed). However, I am still proud to say I have written 9 screenplays, several with my friend and writing partner. Sadly, we never put them out there and so they are collecting digital dust on a jump drive in a box in my closet. Over the years I have blogged occasionally either under a pseudonym for some friend’s sites or for various companies during my employment with them.

Since joining Automattic a few months ago the itch to start a blog crept back within me like a friendly rain spider that never really went away but instead decided to camp out for a while in the dark, damp corner of my basement and not bother anybody…until now.

The difference this time around is that I have a wonderful new domain, don.blog, to go with a few less laughs but much more substance. My plan is to post with a new perspective on domains and cover the intricate or even sometimes the dark parts of the industry many people dare not go. But I will ease into it and relish every keystroke.

I hope you enjoy!

Thanks,

Don

 

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– products evolve, technology advances, internationalization expands, competition increases and brands simply become outdated.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?

SONY DSC

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.

Why I joined Automattic – Part II of II

When the idea of new TLDs was first announced publically by ICANN in 2011 and applications started to pour in thereafter, the industry held their breath with reserved optimism. At best, people approached it with trepidation, and rightly so. It was an unprecedented and bold initiative. Nobody knew what would happen but everyone seemed to have an opinion on the future of the domains industry.

Like many people, I too placed my guesses on which new TLDs would be popular amongst users, and several stood out to me.  One of them was .blog. I remember being in a meeting with several people I highly respect from the industry. When the topic of new TLDs came up, almost instantaneously, these people shot down my position on .blog even though my position came with the caveat that only in the right hands could .blog be successful in changing the narrative around domains. Respectfully, I disagreed with the naysayers but decided to wait and see what happens since that meeting was sometime in 2012 when the idea of new TLDs was still being introduced.

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The wholesale domains business is not unlike other areas of the hosting industry in that it is a long game. You make connections, network, pitch, develop relationships and stay in touch hoping that when the timing is right you are there to secure the business or at least be on the short list of potential partners. That is what I did with Automattic. After a colleague moved to another department within Tucows, I was handed Automattic as a long-term prospect for domains. This was a very exciting opportunity but I also knew it was a bit of a long shot. Domains are not part of their core business and so convincing a company like Automattic to invest time and resources to change domain suppliers without a compelling reason is quite rare. We kept in touch updating each other on our respective businesses and eventually the timing and circumstances were right for Automattic to make a change, though at the time I didn’t know it was due in part to .blog.

Once it was disclosed under an NDA that Automattic won the rights to operate .blog all of the pieces fell into place. My team and I worked getting the Automattic domain’s team familiarized with the platform and eventually set up on Tucows’ hosted registrar system (HRS). At the same time, I was at a crossroads in my career. I felt like I needed a new challenge. Tucows is a wonderful place to work and even though they offered me a vice president position I felt a change was what I needed to grow.

After entertaining several opportunities, all within the domains industry, and after taking a peek under the hood of a fully distributed company, I just could not shake the idea of working for Automattic to help them launch and grow .blog. So, before settling on any other opportunity I felt I owed it to myself to at least propose the idea to Automattic. It was well received but only after they fully understood my motivations for leaving Tucows. They would never poach from a partner. This level of integrity reinforced my desire to work for Automattic. I started as a contractor in March of this year and then as a full-time employee in June. But the rest isn’t history, as they say. We will be writing history through the power of .blog!

Intermission: ICANN 57 – The lighter side!

This week I was in Hyderabad, India at ICANN 57 wading through the murky waters of ICANN with my fearless colleagues. ICANN meetings are filled with interesting people from all over the world. Attendees fight for power and position to forward their individual agendas, but ironically often work in groups to do so.

I have been attending ICANN meetings for several years now but for many of my colleagues it was their first experience at an ICANN meeting, and their first time in India (me as well).  Aside from the work, here are a few other things I learned by attending ICANN 57.

  • The people of India are gracious and accommodating. I will be back – thank you India for your hospitality.
  • In the transition of the often mundane sessions, auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks) are a must form of travel in India and can make for interesting and needed mind-jolting transitions as you risk your life dodging oncoming traffic.
  • The constant eardrum stimulation of honking of horns may keep you up at night but it also saves your life when you are you are on the roads.
  • Always go with a brand name hotel chain…we didn’t and it was unsettling at times.  Luckily, we had each other to create enough levity to make it bearable, and without the option for hot showers, having cold showers does help wake you up after only 3 hours sleep each night.
  • Singing Happy Birthday to someone doesn’t make it their birthday no matter how many times you do it…but it is funny afterward watching others wish them ‘happy birthday’.
  • You can throw the biggest party you want but if you don’t have the right people there then it just isn’t a party. We managed to have all of the right people from the ICANN meeting at our launch party.
  • If it isn’t an acronym ICANN doesn’t use it. “I saw members of the GAC sitting with the GNSO talking about the IANA transition while the IETF  and SSAC listened in.” Rosetta Stone are missing a huge market.
  • Sleep is the only thing that is optional at ICANN.
  • Lastly, hugging is the ultimate form of comfort while watching US elections with US citizens (there is lots of room here in Canada!)

Looking forward to ICANN 58 in Copenhagen in March!

Why I joined Automattic – Part I of II

To answer this question, I must first explain how I fell into with the domain industry. This story begins in 2008 after spending the better part the previous 10+ years in and out of the internet space working for various companies from a hosting company in 1997 (the year Dreamweaver was released and long before Matt dreamt of Automattic) followed by IT consulting firms, to eventually becoming a partner in an email encryption start-up. After this company wrapped up (many lessons learned – we got into bed with the wrong VC) I consulted with start-ups in the Toronto area, writing business plans and go-to-market strategies while helping them raise seed capital. On an excitement scale, this was about an ‘hmm, it’s ok, I guess’ but I wasn’t inspired by any new technologies I saw, though some mobile apps did come close.

For anybody who has ever been at a professional crossroads in their life, start-up consulting was also my way of buying time as I contemplated my next move. Being single at the time I didn’t feel the responsibilities I have today – a wonderful wife and two beautiful young boys. Then an opportunity to work at Tucows came my way through my previous business partner who was consulting with them at the time. Being an early user of the internet I knew the brand Tucows but I didn’t ‘know’ Tucows. For me, it was a place where I downloaded ICQ and other free software in the late 1990’s, but I quickly learned Tucows later morphed into one of the world leaders in domains, email, and SSL. They were interested in my business development/sales background and I was interested in learning the inner workings of this well-respected internet pioneer. But as it turned out in 2007 the timing of their email product overhaul wasn’t quite right for me so I politely passed on the opportunity and turned back to consulting for another year, though I did keep in close contact with Tucows. Something about them, their culture and Elliot Noss’ vision of an open internet intrigued me.

Then in 2008, I was once again approached by Tucows to consider a new position they were thinking of experimenting with. Work with the largest clients, learn their respective businesses, consult with them on domains, email, and SSL, keep them abreast of Tucows’ product roadmap, garner feedback, and facilitate the regular day-to-day account management tasks. Career wise several close friends thought this was a step back but I realized I was presented a wonderful opportunity to learn. Email and SSL were quite familiar to me having spent many years working directly with those products, but looking back now domains were still a bit of an enigma. I registered many over the years, even back when we had to fax in orders and it took 10 – 14 business days to actually get it (.coms were also $100 / 2 years back then too). I am not an overly technical person so I didn’t fully understand the deeper inner workings of domains – name servers, DNS records, add grace periods, redemption periods, secondary market, drops, UDRPs, etc. But I was willing to learn.

I was given clients like Endurance International Group which at the time was a small representation of the hosting powerhouse it is today; VistaPrint, a billion dollar company that had just decided to move into the electronic services space; The Planet / EV1 before they were acquired by SoftLayer and now IBM; Media Temple before it was acquired by GoDaddy; soon afterward it was groups like 123-Reg and Fasthosts; until eventually new web-builders like Squarespace and Yola.

It was working with these groups when I actually developed a deep fondness for domains. I was intrigued how each company approached their end users so very differently despite having the same innate goal of selling them a domain, getting them online and up-selling them more ‘stuff’. Aside from the ccTLDs which were mainly getting their traction in Europe at the time, the other main TLDs were .com, .net, org .biz and .info and .me, to a certain extent. Others like .co, and .xxx were not yet commercially available. And name suggestion was very basic and certainly only utilized by a minute portion of the hosting industry.

I would try to educate clients on the importance of domain search and suggestion as an integral part of onboarding, reinforcing how relevant domain choices will lead to higher domains sales and subsequently the sale of more hosting products.  But at that time domains were less of a priority and unfortunately for most hosters, an afterthought. Registering a domain was often buried somewhere on a site between ‘now-that-we-have-your-credit-card’ and ‘did-I-mention-we-have-domains?’ Instead, hosting packages and all of their technical features are what was front and center.

Not long afterward .co and .xxx were introduced (re-introduced in the case of .co.  Over the course of those years the industry was shifting to website builders and ease-of-use web tools. Domains was a way to hook customers in. Blogging was also getting more popular. WordPress was becoming a staple in hoster’s offerings thanks to WordPress.org. At the same time, the .com zone was getting more crowded by the minute. The domain space wasn’t progressing or innovating as fast as it should have been but rejuvenation was around the corner in the form of new TLDs.