Random Bytes

All Things Internet™ since 1999


Hopeful words from Costa Rica

“…privacy, security, and protection of intellectual property should not become an excuse to justify trends seeking to exercise highly restrictive controls on cyberspace…

Internet belongs to us all, and we should all participate in the discussion on the rules that should govern the Internet. The design of Internet governance should be based on a multistakeholder approach with — regardless of our political, corporate, financial power. We can participate in a process of reciprocal trust that will reinforce coordination and organization mechanisms in a democratic way. Internet is the great opportunity that we have in history, so as to not repeat our past errors that led to the creation of international governance institutions that are vertical, closed and bureaucratic.

Internet should not be conceived as a threat but rather as a hope. Internet is the hope of an integrated world without frontiers, a common world without controlling owners, a world of opportunities and equality. This is a utopia that we have been dreaming about that is a world in which each and every one of us are protagonists of a destiny that we have in our hands.

- Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla addressing the global Internet community at ICANN 43

Hopeful words from a country that seems to really get it. I visited a few years ago, and I remember being impressed with their progressive views on education, military spending and green power. I think this seals the deal – I officially have a new favourite country :)

A complete transcript in PDF can be found on the ICANN web site.


An Experiment: Filez and Warez and Ripz and Torrentz

This post is experimental. I’m just trolling to see what the response to this file will be.


It is a copy of the U.S. Constitution in PDF format. You need to decompress the archive to view. It will not burn as a proper ISO file and I don’t recommend downloading it if you are looking for a copy of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1.

I’ll post an analysis of the logs and feedback in a few weeks.


Murdoch’s Position on SOPA is rooted in blind greed

I’ve been reserving the space on this blog for bigger thoughts and longer pieces than Twitter allows for. This thought is only slightly longer than 140 characters, but the original article got me riled up enough I just had to fire up MarsEdit and rip out a few choice words…


I just finished reading this article describing Rupert Murdoch’s twitter potshots at Google earlier this week concerning Google’s stance on SOPA/PIPA. About half way through, my menta jaw hit the floor.

Implicit in Murdoch’s statements is this thought:

Internet Search on the PC is one thing, and Internet Search on the TV is another.  Damn you if you think that I’m going to let you run a clean search of the Open Internet on the television.

Although I didn’t need the reinforcement, this story reminds me exactly how self-centred, greedy, short-sighted and damaging SOPA and its kin will be. If you hadn’t figured this out already, this fight is all about Big Media losing power and money and has extremely little to do with art and piracy.

My message for Mr. Murdoch? Go find yourself a new business model – the Internet doesn’t want yours.


Evolving The Domain Name Experience

(I don’t normally write about Hover here on my own blog, but I really wanted to tell this story and it felt a little bit off-topic for the corporate blog…that, and I need the traffic :-) )

When what we think of as “Domain Names” started up, it was a volunteer side-effort of registering names, one done by hand and totally unreliable in terms of turnaround. You can say what you want related to what came next, but they were kind of Bad Old Days. If a domain was offensive, or they were busy that week, or anything else, you had to basically hope the forces mixed together and you got your domain name. The process of changing domain names, of doing a lot of other domain-related transactions, was weird, slow and stupid.

- Jason Scott

By August 2001, ICANN had still not figured out the policies and process by which registrants could move domain names between registrars. Prior to 1999, there were no alternative registrars and therefore, no domain name portability requirements. With the dismantling of Network Solutions/Verisign’s monopoly over the domain registry/registrar business and the introduction of competitive registrars (ICANN is still sorting out how to introduce competition at the registry level) customers were free to choose who they bought their domain names from and had no freedom if they had previously purchased a domain name from Network Solutions/Verisign.

Now to be clear, domain transfers existed in theory, but not really in practice. In the absence of any standards or defining policies, it was a free-for-all – each registrar was free to make up their own rules – and so they did. Very few names moved back and forth between registrars because of the undocumented practices and intransigence by the incumbent.

As you can imagine, Network Solutions/Verisign (in their registrar role) wasn’t exactly keen to introduce domain name transfer policy and faced with little progress in the discussion, I submitted a draft proposal to ICANN (here’s the original PDF, easier to read) with the goal of spurring discussion. I’ve long believed that victory is often claimed by he who holds the pen, so I never hesitated to draft proposals like this with the goal of defining the policy direction of the ensuing discussion.

By 2003, the policy mechanics had largely been worked out and new policy was implemented.

Thing is, the policy wasn’t well supported by the large registrars. Network Solutions had come around and did a lot of work to come to a set of last minute compromises, but in practice, it was years before their customers were able to easily transfer domain names out. Generally, it was like pulling teeth to get a customer to transfer over from them. Despite the fact that they had a lot to gain, Register.com took an equally customer-hostile stance against domain name portability (which continues to this day in some ways). And at the time, Godaddy wasn’t even on the radar, so they were a non-factor.

Most of what we saw came in the form of the losing registrar putting up roadblocks to make it hard for customers to transfer. Whois access would disappear, data would get changed around, requests were ignored or inexplicably denied – it was all gaming, pure and simple. As the industry grew, the games got more sophisticated but by 2007 or so, all of the localized “rules” that these large players had implemented were well-known and work-arounds could be automated.

Except for registrars who employed what I call “the famous Godaddy lock” – named after the registrar who originated the practice. They do this thing where if you change ownership information on your domain, they lock it down for 60 days preventing you from transferring to a new registrar. This affects *tons* of people trying to move their domains.

Dating back to 2004, ICANN has been explicit that a registrar can only deny a transfer on a locked domain “…if they also provide a reasonable and readily accessible means for name holders to remove the lock status. Registrars who put any names on lock status MUST also provide reasonable and readily accessible means for customers to remove the lock status.” None of these registrars provide any way for a customer to unlock their domain during this 60 day window. Of course, the easiest work around is to update your contact information after the transfer has completed.

Thing is, many, many, many registrants don’t know this and get locked up for far longer than they need to.

We used to get all worked up when registrars made up new “policies” – usually based on some incredibly narrow (and inaccurate) interpretation of what they thought ICANN’s transfer policy said. I would get *really* worked up because not only did I have the policies memorized, but as a draftor, I knew what the *intent* of the policies were. Funny, the creative interpretations were rarely consistent with my intent.

Long ago, I realized that the situation wasn’t going to change. Even if all the existing registrars fell into line, a new one would come along and come up with their own novel interpretation. Failing iron-fisted enforcement by ICANN, domain transfers would never be as easy as they should be.

Which brings me to the point of this post (which is far longer than it should be). The day that we realized that we weren’t facing a policy issue or a regulatory failing was the day we realized that we were facing a customer service issue. Rather than trying to lobby for new policies, stronger enforcement or a political resolution, we simply started doing whatever we could to help our customers.

This generally meant that we’d call the customer and walk them through the transfer, step-by-step and make sure they didn’t click on any little land mines that forced their domain to get locked or the transfer denied. In time, we were able to institutionalize this to the point where now, every customer that transfers to us has the option to do it themselves, or to have us handle all of the little details, in essence acting as the customer’s agent so they can worry about more important things like oh… lunch for example.

The beautiful thing is that we’re able to offer this highly customized and personal level of service to our customers for no extra charge.

I’ve been thinking a lot about customer service this evening, inspired by conversations with customers, and this quote from Jason Scott’s post, “Godaddy SOPA Blah

“DNS and domain name garbage are like funerals and busted water heaters. You don’t want to deal, when you come into problems it’s usually under duress, and when it’s all over you stop thinking about it until the next time.”

We’ve still got a lot of rough edges to sort out – especially when it comes to recognizing that many of the people we talk to every day don’t necessarily *want* to, its because they have to. We’re the plumbers of the Internet, and I’m cool with that. I think we can be the best damn plumbers out there.




The Twitter Timeline

Last week I wrote a post about what I didn’t like about the new Twitter design. My argument misses an important point – Twitter is on its own timeline. They are on a journey, just like everyone else, and are moving down the road towards realizing what Twitter ought to be. This recent version of Twitter will not be the last – the product and the company continue to evolve.

Are they moving in the right direction? This article implies they are. Twitter appears to be working on maturing the organization and the product at the same time. These are probably the right priorities – and certainly better than no priorities.

Reading the tea leaves a bit, it appears that for Twitter Inc. revenue is no longer a distraction and that public navel gazing and “star fucking” does little or nothing to contribute to the bottom-line and the future of the company.

Analysing whether or not they’ve made all the right decisions concerning the product misses a big point. Twitter is turning the ship and making progress towards where they need to be. By focusing on their organization, people and execution they are developing broad internal expertise in how they achieve results. This might be the biggest difference between Facebook Today and Twitter Today. Facebook executes, Twitter posts about it. I think this is changing and Twitter is becoming an organization that executes.

If successful, this means the end of the line for all of the weird usability artifacts that the Twitter UI has been wrestling with these past four years. It also means Twitter Inc. will be a vastly improved organization deeply invested in building great products and delivering great service.

This is important for the future of the web. The other large social networks, Facebook specifically, exists to replace the web. Twitter, on the other hand, exists to make the web better. The world doesn’t need another AOL, it needs a better web and if Twitter plays its cards right, they could insinuate themselves with the web in such a way that they become a big part of the social backplane that is evolving to support the Open Web – a role that Facebook appears to have completely rejected in favour of what it views as larger goals.

But that would be the subject of another post completely.


Timeline Spam

I’m surprised that at this point in 2011 (almost 2012) that companies still think it is smart to sneak stuff onto users timelines when asking for auth information.

It is just as uncool as forcing users to opt-out of mailing lists and other forms of spam.

For example, this signup form for TimeKiwi…

Screen Shot 2011 12 19 at 10 40 39 PM

…stuffed this into my timeline….

Screen Shot 2011 12 19 at 10 49 22 PM

Unless you get explicit consent you’re just making enemies. Don’t do it, no matter how tempting it is.

Thing is, I regularly send tweets pimping apps I like to my timeline… do good things and there’s a pretty good chance that I won’t mind spreading the word at all.

Screen Shot 2011 12 19 at 10 51 37 PM

Just please don’t spam.


Register.com Still Playing Transfer Games 10 Years Later

10 years after ICANN first implemented its inter-registrar domain transfer policy, Register.com is still leading the way in customer-hostile game playing that serves no real purpose other than to stem the bleed of customers away from their high prices and poor service. Here’s a recent email that I received from them when I tried to transfer a domain name away from them…

You recently requested an auth code to transfer your “somesillytestdomainname.com” domain name.
Your request has been processed and at this time it has been declined due to recent suspicious activity in your account.

Register.com is committed to providing the most secure and reliable domain services for our customers.
We have implemented specific security measures to help prevent unauthorized transfer of domains to another registrar.
The type of suspicious activity that could have caused your request to be declined includes:
- Multiple failed attempts to login to customer’s account
- Recent changes to the account holder’s name, email address, or login ID
- Attempts to access the account over the phone without authorization
- Recent changes to the accounts password
- Domain name lock not removed
- Recent changes to billing or credit card information

To receive your auth code, please call one of our customer service consultants at 1.888.734.4783. They will confirm you to the account and then fulfill your request.

Thing is, most auth code requests receive this type of a response. From what I understand, it is basically impossible to retrieve an auth code from them via the web.

This is one of the reasons we work so hard at Hover to understand what other registrars are up to and invest so much in systems and processes that help customers move their domains. Most of them are playing games, making it virtually impossible for regular people to move their business to a new registrar without jumping through a myriad of self-serving hoops. If you ever want to move your domains to Hover from a hostile provider like Register.com, feel free to give us a call and let us take care of the details. It certainly beats having to get a PH.D (Doctorate in Domains) just to move your business to a new provider.

(and yeah, I’ve heard the whole “we are worried about our customers security” argument a thousand times before. Domain hijacking is no more prevalent at registrars that don’t play transfers games than their are at ones that do.)


My customers, not your eyeballs

SaaS is a great model and I especially like how it can solve small business problems very quickly. Using a web service instead of developing custom code in-house can really decrease the amount of time it takes to develop a new idea and launch it into the market.

One of my requirements for web services is that my brand takes prominence over theirs. Some services are better at this than others, and I’m fairly forgiving on this point – sometimes the URLs aren’t as clean as I would like or our ability to brand the service is limited, but generally SaaS providers understand the importance of helping us put our brand in front of our customers.

Most SaaS providers offer this enhanced branding as an upsell from their free offer. No cash mean no branding – this makes total sense to me. This arrangement is essentially an advertising relationship where I let the SaaS provider advertise their brand to my customers in exchange for free use of their service. In some cases, I’m also really cool with this arrangement but for the most part, I prefer to just pay up and take advantage of the branding for my benefit.

I ran across one provider this week that seems to want the best of both worlds. They want me to pay for their service (no free option) and their solution is heavily branded with links and logos to entice my customers to use their service. Thinking that I must have missed something, I sent an email to their customer support team asking how I can turn off their branding.

Their response was that they had no plans to offer this feature in the near future. I wasn’t really surprised at the response, but I was definitely taken aback by the temerity of their strategy. Do they really think this is a sustainable way to grow their business?

In essence, their business model presumes that I will pay them money so that they can advertise to my customers.

Screw that. My relationship with my customers is important and precious – there’s no way that I’m going to distract them with someone else’s corporate messaging in this way.

We’ll be moving to a new solution soon.



Bullet Time, Wet

If you are familiar with the technology behind the original “bullet time” effect in the Matrix, you will really appreciate how trick this commercial’s production is – getting all of those cameras on the water is no small feat. Watch this one in full screen.

Rip Curl Mirage Campaign from Time-Slice® Films on Vimeo.

Check out Core 7 for more details.


Trick or treat!

Halloween 2Dpumpkins rev

Have a safe and happy Halloween everyone! More importantly, don’t forget that the Christmas season starts tomorrow!