Without trust there is nothing

Posted by Chris Disspain on 9 August 2011

One of the major messages auDA strives to convey is that .au is a reliable, stable, trustworthy domain space.

In fact, I’m pretty sure we have been banging on about the importance of trust ever since auDA was established and assumed responsibility for the operation of .au.

The relevance of this message has been highlighted by recent developments that have negatively affected thousands of British companies. An online news story sets out the details of the legal and administrative battles surrounding the operation of “gb.com”, which offers third-level registrations as an alternative to .co.uk.

Many businesses who chose to register a domain name in gb.com rather than co.uk recently found their websites were no longer working. Registrants were greeted with a message at gb.com encouraging them to re-register their names or contact their service provider.

Although the operator of gb.com has since regained control and attributed the outage to the actions of a third party, it is yet to be seen to what extent the incident will damage reputations and business models – both of those directly involved in the dispute over gb.com and the businesses that registered their names through the service.

Now, just to be clear, I am not, and would never, suggest that any given registrant, in any given domain, can ever be 100% confident that they will not suffer outages. Nor am I casting negative aspersions about those selling third-level names in gb.com, as they are only one participant in a very common and widespread phenomenon.

But what the recent events surrounding gb.com do highlight is the types of added risks registrants expose themselves to by choosing to register in a space that is selling sub-domains on a commercial basis as opposed to in a well-regulated domain with well-defined policy frameworks.

First of all, there is the obvious risk to business continuity. If those selling the third level domains go out of business, you lose your domain name. All of the marketing and promotional efforts you have made go down the drain and your business may follow soon after.

In contrast, registrants in a regulated space such as .com.au are afforded certain protections in the unlikely event of registrar failure and can recover their name and livelihood with the assistance of auDA and whichever registrar they choose to switch to.

Also, .au has mechanisms built-in to deal with circumstances where you might find your business, trademark or other intellectual property rights infringed upon by a com.au registrant. Any com.au registration can be investigated by auDA upon receipt of a valid complaint about the registrant’s eligibility for a name. We can check that the name is appropriately registered and, if it is not, return it to the pool of names for registration. If the domain name is an obvious misspelling of a known brand, company or product, we can also put it on a reserved list to prevent further misuse. More importantly, if a name you are eligible for is registered by someone without a legitimate claim to it, you can go through an independent dispute resolution procedure that is faster and costs a lot less than legal action and, if successful, can result in the name transferred directly to you.

Another advantage of operating your business in a well-run domain is that doing so can resolve issues of confusion and trust for your most important stakeholders – your customers. The “com.au” brand is well established, highly-recognised and often expected by Australian-based Internet users. The use of an alternative domain – for the sake of being able to secure a shorter, more memorable name, saving a few dollars or avoiding “red tape” – may end up being counter-productive when you are operating in a space that is not instinctively familiar to your customer base.

Just as importantly, not operating in a policy-rich domain will mean your customers will not have the same degree of confidence in the legitimacy of your operations. The policy rules for .com.au mean that users are assured that the registrant of, for example, shoesbychris.com.au has met eligibility and allocation criteria and is a business registered to operate in Australia, has something to do with shoes, and is likely run by someone called Chris. Your customers will also be assured that you are subject to relevant legislative provisions such as the Trade Practices Act, that your customer service and delivery mechanisms are most likely local and responsive and, in a worst-case scenario, they can appropriately raise any concerns with state or territory consumer affairs bodies.

All of these arguments tie back to one main issue – and the main motivation for this post – the importance of trust. Trust in the domain space you register in, trust in the security and stability of your commercial investment, and the trust your customers will have in your operations and the protection of their rights. All of these are vital drivers of success in the bricks-and-mortar world of business – and just as important online.