Choosing a domain is one of the most important business decisions you can make as an entrepreneur. This is not something that you can skimp on. To give your business the best possible chance of success, you need a domain that encompases your brand, that’s easy to both spell and remember, and that tells your audience everything they need to know about who you are and what you do in a single word or phrase. Your domain is essentially real estate. It’s your four acres in the great landscape of the internet. It’s a raised flag that says “look out world, I’m here, and this is who I am.” In the same way that a person’s home is their castle, your domain is the home and resting place of your business. So it makes sense that you’d want to keep your domain forever, right? Turns out, it’s unfortunately not as simple as all that. While we all like to think we own our domains, the truth is actually much more complicated. We’ll take a look at what a domain name is, what happens when you register a domain name, and who actually owns your domain. Read to the end, and you’ll learn how you can own the domain name of your choice forever.

What is a Domain Name?

In the same way that no two people are alike, computers each have their own identity. The internet is essentially a giant network of computers linked together. Your computer’s identity in that network is encapsulated in its IP address. When you register a website and make it available for public use, your IP address is tied to a domain name: your websites’  signifier as an individual in that network. You typically get a domain name by buying it from a registrar. You can also use a web hosting service that will provide you with a domain name, along with a suite of tools to make your website usable and secure. However, you can’t just buy any domain name. It needs to be currently available – not taken or currently in use by anyone else.

A Brief History of the Domain Name System

To understand the concept of modern domain name ownership, it might be helpful to first understand where the naming system for websites came from in the first place. Before the internet as we know it today existed, we had something called ARPANET in the 1960’s. This was the first attempt at computer networking, and was the precursor to the Internet. ARPANET was celebrated as a big technological achievement that helped rival the launch of the Sputnik 1 satelite by the Soviet Union, but came with severe limitations. In the days of ARPANET, you had to memorize the IP address of every computer you wanted to message or send files to. This was not a sustainable system. As computer networking became widespread throughout North America, Europe, Asia and South America, both computer ownership and computer networking grew to the point where the current naming-system was no longer a feasible option. Another solution had to  be put in place. That’s when computer scientists Jon Postel, Paul Mockapetris and Craig Partrige came together to create what we know today as the DNS system in 1983. The DNS nomenclature made use of names “IBM, EnCrica, Softonic etc.” and categories which identify a domain’s purpose e.g. .com.  The DNS system translates the names of websites into a matching computer IP address and then locates the matching address. Essentially, it’s a giant phonebook of everything on the internet. Without it, you would have to memorize individual IP addresses like you did in the days of ARPANET. The first .com registration was filed in 1985 by Symbolics Inc. From 1995 onward, domain names were no longer free, and domains started at $100 for a two-year registration. This led to the privitazation of the DNS system in 1998. Prior to that, domain name registration was regulated by the US Government. President Bill Clinton called for the internet to be privatized to encourage competition and incentivize international participation in the internet.  The US Department of Commerce published a document called The Green Paper, which proposed ways to privatize the management of internet names. This document later led to the creation of ICANN to facilitate this proposal. ICANN monitors the DNS to this day. The modern DNS was a creative solution to a problem and a vast improvement on what came before, and for that it’s a huge achievement in the history of the modern internet. However it’s by no means perfect. When you account for what the internet is like today and some of the flaws of the DNS system, you begin to see that it’s deeply flawed and needs to be updated with something else. For one thing, when Mockapetris and company created the DNS nomenclature, he accounted for the creation of maybe 50 million domains. He didn’t foresee that the internet would grow to its current size and scale of 330.6 million domains as of today.  Not only that, the DNS is also prone to security vulnerabilities such as Denial of Service Attacks and spoofing.  The traditional DNS system is outdated and needs to be replaced with a better system. But we’ll get more into that later.

How Much Does a Domain Name Cost, and How Long do I Own it For?

Domains are generally inexpensive. A domain will generally run you between $2 to $20 per year – and they scale in price the more recently they’re brought to market. You can register domains on a yearly basis. Many domain registrars will allow you to buy domains for up to 10 years at a time. Once your domain name expires, it’s set up for auction on the registrar where it can be bought by someone else. It can also be taken by cybersquatters – bad actors who wait for domains to expire, purchase them the moment they do, and flip them at a profit. That’s why it’s important that you keep your domain name registry up to date so that you don’t set yourself up to be hurt. There are some ways you can extend your domain name ownership without risking losing your domain, if you know how.

Can I Own a Domain Outright?

The short answer is no. The longer answer is no – at least, not until recently. The current Domain Name System is centralized and maintained by one of a number of domain name registrars contracted by ICANN, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and numbers. The price of your domain is artificially regulated. There are a number of stated reasons why domain name ownership and regulation is centralized. The cost of a domain increases with a company’s growth. As the company and its website grows, the operational costs of maintaining a domain increase – making sure that the website on the domain is stable and secure enough for people to visit it without crashing or being hacked. A registry needs to account for the growth of a domain by increasing the cost of a registry fee. Essentially, the current domain name registration system regulates the ownership of domains in the same way that the Federal Reserve regulates the flow of money in and out of the national economy to prevent recessions and economic crashes. That’s all well and good. But the upshot of all that is that you don’t truly own your domain name. You just rent it from the registrar. It’s similar to renting an apartment. Rather than owning your apartment, you lease it for a month or number of months at a time from your landlord. While there are good reasons why that might be the case, the downside is that registrars and the organizations that manage them such as ICANN can delete or take away your domain name at will, for any reason. Uncertainty is never a good place for your business to be in. What if your website were to be taken away? You would lose a good chunk of your revenue and your audience. If your business is all virtual and has no brick-and-mortar storefront, such an event could ruin you. There are a couple of ways you can continue to keep ownership of your domain indefinitely while working through the traditional DNS system. We’ll outline a couple of them below:

Method 1 – Renew Your Domain Name Continuously

Step 1: Purchase your domain name from a domain name registrar such as EnCirca Step 2: Write down the exact date you purchased your domain. Rather than writing it down on a piece of paper where it could get lost or thrown in the trash on accident, it may be better to write it down on an electronic calendar or reminder system such as Google Calendar, Google Keep or ToDoist.   Step 3: Your domain expires exactly one year after you purchase it. Wait until your domain is about a month away from expiring. Once that happens, login to your domain manager with the username and password you made when you bought your domain. Step 4: Renew your domain within your domain manager tool. Many domain name registrars let you set up recurring payments for your domain name registration – so that the cost of your registration is deducted from your credit card every year. That’s the old way of holding onto your domain name for as long as you want. However, as of now, there is a way you can own your domain name forever, without going through the traditional DNS system.

Introducing Handshake Domains – Own Your Domain Forever

The current system of domain name ownership is deeply flawed. It’s rooted in anti-consumer practice and its prohibitive for small businesses and websites trying to establish themselves. That’s why EnCirca is now introducing Handshake domains: a domain you can buy, keep, and own forever – with no tricks or caveats. A handshake domain is a decentralized domain name system that’s powered by blockchain technology. Similar to how Bitcoins are valued in money, Handshake coins are valued in domain name ownership. Using the traditional domain name system, you can only rent domains for a pre-set amount of time. Handshake domains, meanwhile, provide true ownership because they’re decentralized and not regulated by organizations like ICANN. Once you own a Handshake domain, you can keep it for life. You own your Handshake domains forever. It’s important to note that Handshake domains are new and in the experimental phase. They don’t resolve on the DNS and won’t render on the client-side browser without a special plugin.

Benefits of Handshake Domains

True Ownership

Your website’s domain is actually controlled by centralized organizations such as ICANN who can take them back at will. The decentralized nature of handshake domains means that you get to keep them for life, free of ICANN or other gatekeepers who would merely lend them to you. There are numerous other benefits to Handshake domains now that relate to its decentralized nature. For example, the fact that you have true ownership means that you have no yearly rental fees. Normally you’d have to submit a biennial mining fee to keep the domain active, but the handshake protocol does this for you.

Endless Top Level Domains

The entire root domain system where Top-Level Domain ownership is stored is controlled by a single entity – ICANN. The root zone is where all information regarding Top-Level Domain ownership is recorded. This artificially restricts the availability of domains for website owners. Not so with Handshake domains, which allow you to make your domain name literally anything. That includes domain names made from Chinese or Cyrillic characters. EnCirca supports a number of Handshake domains including .CONSULTANCY, .ECONOMY, .HIRE and .STARTUP. Get creative. Find a TLD and domain name combination that works best for you and your business.

Private and Secure

Another pitfall of the centralized nature of the DNS is that it compromises your website’s security, as well as the privacy of your own personal browsing behavior. A centralized internet means that governments can censor websites through DNS filtering, as indeed is currently the case in the United States, Russia and China. It’s not just governments at play either. Bad actors can spy on your browsing activity this way – even those posing as legitimate institutions. Certificate authorities often compromise the security of SSL certificates – a signal to Google that your website is safe to use and free from cyberattacks or phishing schemes – by issuing bad certificates and cooperating with governments to spy on your website’s traffic. Not so with Handshake. The Handshake domain system respects your privacy by not requiring personal data during encryption. There is no annual fee to keep your information private, which means people can’t find your personal information with a WHOIS lookup.

Conclusion

The modern DNS system was a necessary solution for a problem it solved in its time, but it no longer rThe domain name you put your heart and soul into renting and maintaining could be taken from you in one of a number of ways. It’s in your best interests as a business owner to have a domain you can keep indefinitely. The future of the internet is decentralized. Handshake domains allow you to own your domain outright with no yearly fees. Register a handshake domain with EnCirca and be a part of the next iteration of the internet.