Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Domain Names Irish Style

Recently I set about getting the domain soundings.ie for the sound art curatorial group I am a member of. I figured this might take between 24 and 48 hours. Two weeks later the job is done. Let me introduce you to the bizarre, anachronistic world of Irish domain names.

To get a .com, .org, .net or similar domain name you simply find one of the hundreds of resellers, slap about $10 a year on the table, and walk away with a registered name. Hosts provide snazzy little control panels so you can redirect HTTP traffic or email to some other location. Thus it doesn't matter much where you actually host your website relative to the name servers, though common wisdom has it that it's best to keep them apart. Reason being that if you have them together at one host, that company may not be too rushed to update the nameservers should you ever take your web hosting business elsewhere.

So I went looking for Irish domain name registrars, using the list at the IEDR. There are only 20 companies listed who currently manage more than 500 domains, and some of those don't have any easy-to-find info on their sites. Of the rest it quickly became apparent that only a few had anything less than stratospheric prices; the rest apparently catered to large stupid firms.

€50 seemed the lower limit of prices, but reading the small print this rarely included web redirection (necessary) or VAT (annoying). Eventually I narrowed the list to one provider, WebHost, who provided what I needed for €49 + VAT.

Though I can get six or more .com domains for this price, it does seems to be the prevailing rate for .ie. So I got out my credit card, fill out the required forms and waited. For a week. In this time I saw no requests for information, no confirmation of my order, no receipt, nothing. After a couple of inquiries and a direct threat to withdraw my business, I hear from a representative and after much back and forth we get things sorted.

Having read the Registration Policy I was well aware of what was required to get a domain name, but still find it funny beyond all belief.

Individuals are not allowed to register a name of their own choosing. The Irish authority will assign them a name based on their initials and two numbers. Yes, I am sure people all over the country are lining up for a chance to register rp96.ie or what-have-you. And for this you still need to provide proof of who you are, by way of a passport or birth certificate. I guess they don't want just anyone registering rp96.ie, it has to be someone who is legally entitled to it. Sheesh!

But wait, there's more. In fact ten more categories of legal applicants each with their formalities. Soundings got to apply as "Category 9: Unincorporated Association Name". For this I had to fax the authorities a letter on official letterhead.

Fax.

On letterhead.

A reminder: this is 2006. OK, that straight, we can continue.

No, sorry, I can't go on. It's all too strange. Let me say again: to register an internet domain name I had to send a facsimile of a letterhead. I may as well send up smoke signals in Limerick and have them read in Dublin. Instead I got to install the Windows fax components and get them to work correctly. That was two hours of my life I'll never get back.

But as a side benefit I got to discover who the least happy person in the world is: the author of the Windows fax page cover sheet editor. Because he's likely still cursing whoever decided it was necessary to write an entire application and invent all new file formats for something any basic word processor already does.

But anyway.

I sent the fax, it was received, I got a domain name. Then I went to the WebHost control panel to set up domain redirection. I am sure you know what comes next.

WebHost has no online control panel. Domain redirection requests and the like must be made via email. This despite the fact that their page, referred to above, says not once but four times that they have an "online control panel". That's even more often than I have typed the phrase "online control panel" in this article.

To quote:

"All of the above domain name registration fees include the following:
* URL & E-Mail forwarding via our online control panel.
* Advanced DNS host configuration via our online control panel.
* Change your whois contact information via our online control panel.
* Modify the DNS nameservers for your domain name via our online control panel."


So what can we learn from this?

1. Ireland is a backwater island with a tech level not exceeding Eritrea.

2. If anyone asks you to register for them an Irish domain name, take the money, buy them three stateless names instead, pocket the remainder of the cash, and then tell them how much time you've saved them.

Via a facsimile.

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