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When A Free Domain Name Costs Too Much 14 August 2000 Edition
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Note: the following is based on my own interpretation of the Service Agreement and terms listed on the NameDemo.com website and is not represented as undeniable fact. What you are reading is opinion -- readers are encouraged to visit the NameDemo.com site and review the relevant sections for themselves.

Everything's free on the Net these days!

First we had web hosting at places like Geocities and Xoom. Then came free email from the likes of Hotmail and Yahoo! Need internet access? -- hey, you can get that for free as well! Want the latest Metalica album? No problem -- Napster will help you get that for free too.

And now, that last bastion of "you've got to pay" -- securing the domain name of your choice, is also free.

The US domain name registrar 4 register.com has launched a new site where it is giving away .com, .net and .org domain name registrations for free!

Yes, if you drop into 4 namedemo.com you'll find that you can register any name not already taken under one of the three generic top-level domains at no cost.

Sounds too good to be true?

Well I believe it is, for several reasons.

First up, although you register the name, you are not the assigned registrant. That is to say that Namedemo.com will become the legal registrant and I can't see anything on the site that guarantees you any rights to transfer the domain into your own name or automatically take over as registrant after the free one-year period.

Here's an excerpt from the policy:
"As part of the NameDemo.com service, NameDemo.com grants you a limited, non-exclusive, personal, non-transferable, non-assignable, revocable license to use the .com, .net, or .org domain name selected by you..."

The worry with this is that if you take advantage of this offer and, by design or by good luck, manage to create a presence on the Net that becomes very popular, there is no guarantee that NameDemo won't then demand some suitably high fee to hand over the name at a later date. What's worse, they could simply take it away from you and give it to someone else without warning, reason or penalty.

You also run the risk that, because you aren't the legal registrant, and because the registration is not transferable to another registrar, NameDemo.com could, at any time, introduce whatever fees it felt were acceptable with its only responsibility being to provide you with 10 days notice.

Secondly -- in using this service you are saying "spam me please." Check this clause in their 4  Service Agreement which says:

"You further acknowledge and agree that NameDemo.com may make publicly available, or directly available to third parties, some, or all, of the information you provide, for targeted marketing and other purposes as required or permitted by applicable laws"

Owch!

And if you get into a dispute, or need to communicate with them at any time, be very careful about what you say or this clause could bite you:

"Communications with NameDemo.com are not private and may be published either in their entirety or in edited form at any time, at the sole discretion of NameDemo.com".

The final torpedo that makes this "free" service just too expensive to consider is the fact that although you can have your domain name pointed to any webserver you like, it appears as if your pages are still going to be framed by some rather nasty advertising and promotion from NameDemo.com.

It's pretty easy to see how this idea could earn a lot of money for NameDemo.com, after all, the bulk cost of registrations is very, very low -- just a few dollars or so. Even a modestly active site will probably return that amount of money in a year from the mandatory advertising frame. Then let's not forget just how much an opt-in mailing list of the type that NameDemo.com will be accumulating can earn each time it's sold.

And of course, if the main plan turns to custard and doesn't make any money, they can always give you 10 days notice and start charging whatever they want for the service. And, because the registration is not transferable, you won't even be able to shift to a cheaper registrar.

It would appear to me that if the money-lust got too great, they could even publish the traffic figures for the busiest domain names and then auction them to the highest bidder -- regardless of any complaints from the original users who suddenly found themselves with no rights at all to that name.

Readers Say
One major point that wasn't addressed in this article - Register.com

There's another of these sites at www.namezero.com - K.Clayton

Have Your Say

All in all -- it's very slick!

But... is it a good deal for someone looking to register a domain name on the cheap?

Well, if you really don't care about the advertising frame, the fact that you don't actually have any rights to the name, and don't mind the prospect of having your mailbox filled with massive amounts of spam -- then go for it. But then you're probably also the kind of person who walks on broken glass for pleasure.

However, I think the vast majority of people, and certainly anyone planning to create any kind of online business, would be well advised to take a big detour around this "free" service -- it's way too expensive!

Unfortunately, I suspect that P.T. Barnum was right and we can expect to see a lot of vanity-domains registered so that people can use their own name as the last part of their email address (damn it, brucesimpson.com has gone already! :-)

Really Worth A Look
If you haven't already seen it, take a few minutes to download what is being heralded as a breakthrough short film making in the form of a movie which uses nothing more than regular desktop PCs and software to create some amazingly realistic special effects. And it's got a great storyline too! Note... watch the film using the link on the front page before you look at the rest of the site or you'll spoil the story.

The movie and website is at 4 405themovie.com.

As always, your feedback is welcomed.

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Copyright © 2000, Bruce Simpson, free republication rights available on request