Observations from 4 years in the domain name industry.

So today marks my last day in the office as CMO for the .nz registry, NZRS. A bitter sweet day as a I reflect on my time here and prepare for the next adventure.

Prior to this role I had no experience with this diverse and vibrant sector of the Internet. Hiding in plain sight it is a sector most us interact with every single day and yet give little thought to. The world of domain names and the critical Domain Name System (DNS) that operates it is much like electricity to me. We (the public) are constantly using domain names when we browse the Internet and send/receive our emails, but give little thought to the infrastructure required to make our experience on the Internet work.

A large part of my role at NZRS has been working with Registrars from around the globe. Registrars are the retail channel through which domain names are sold and NZRS functions as the wholesaler of .nz domain names. The relationship between registrar and registry are crucial to the success of both. To be successful Registries need to provide a product (domain names) that has appeal in the market, has sound policies and low friction for on-boarding and transacting domain names.
The registrar sector has undergone significant change in the past four years with the release of hundreds of new top level domains (nTLDs). Some of the key changes I have observed are:

  • Registrars have had to evolve. The growth in domain name options has changed registrars from operating like a ‘corner store’ selling a few products to a supermarket selling a wide range. This has forced registrars to contend with more complex supply chains, differentiated pricing, merchandising (how and what names to promote to customers), and customer communications.
  • Registrars have more power over which domains to promote. When the range of products was small registrars could easily determine what domain names were relevant to the market they were servicing. As the range of options grew, the power to choose what domain names to offer sat with the registrar. Registries of new TLDs needed to encourage registrars to not only stock their product but also promote it. This has resulted in a constant flow of marketing opportunities being offered to registrars.
  • It is becoming more about the customer. A lot of the change to date has been around the supply chain and selection of which domain names to offer. This change has forced registrars to develop clarity on the market they serve and as a result have a better understanding of what their customers actually want from them. Whilst there is still a long way to go there have been a growing number of registrars focussing on the user experience in order to make it easier to register and manage domain names. In what is essentially a commodity market customer loyalty and retention will be key to success for registrars and registries.

As well as working with registrars I have had the privilege to collaborate and share ideas with other registries around the globe. In particular the country code domain space (ccTLD) is a highly collaborative community, largely operating for the public good as not for profit or government run entities. This community is welcoming and open to sharing ideas, lessons and successes. I learnt a lot from other ccTLDs and was lucky enough to be able to share some of my own stories and lessons, in particular around the launch of shorter .nz domain names.

Three times a year ICANN meetings are held which bring together a diverse group of stakeholders committed to the stable operation of a global Internet. These meetings are a fascinating insight into how policy that impacts global users of the Internet can and is developed. The consensus driven multi-stakeholder approach is intriguing to observe and contribute in and the commitment (largely voluntary) is astounding.

At a more local level the organisations behind the .nz domain name, InternetNZ (delegated manager), NZRS (registry) and DNC (regulator) are full of passionate people committed to ensuring a better Internet for all New Zealanders. The work they do is unseen by many but essential to ensuring we have an Internet that is open, accessible and free from excessive control and oversight. I have been privileged to work with such a great group. I will continue as a member of InternetNZ and encourage anyone else with an interest in the Internet to become a member as well.

So, onwards to the new adventure working at Silverstripe. There have been a great many achievements and lessons I will take to my new role.

A sincere thanks to all those who have been part of this stage in my journey.