Just about every New Zealand business depends on the internet nowadays in some form or the other. From communications to providing products and services, and being found by customers: it's all delivered via the internet.
That crucial online presence can be surprisingly fragile however. When something goes wrong it can really hurt, as barrister Michael Keall discovered. Literally, a single click - or the lack thereof - can make that domain you depend on disappear for days, maybe weeks.
Michael has had his business domain for over a decade, and paid for the renewal of the registration on time. Despite that, the domain vanished off the internet recently.
In an instant his online presence was gone. Apart from Michael's website not displaying, emails weren't arriving and he couldn't send any either.
What had happened? Since Michael's domain is a top-level domain ending in .com, the United States-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) requires registrants to verify their contact details (this is done to prevent widespread abuse by spammers and criminals entering fake data).
This is the first time he had had to do that in the ten years Michael has been with his registrar, Domains4Less that's been part of his hosting service. Remarkably, Domains4Less - which now says it is taking steps avoid a repeat - did not tell Michael that he had to verify his contact details, or that the email directing him to do so would come from SRSPlus.com.
To Michael, the SRSPlus.com email looked like a phishing message and as he says "we've been trained to ignore those for years now". Domains4Less is an SRSPlus reseller, but that relationship was not disclosed to Michael, he said.
What followed was a five-day long outage for the domain, and a painful process to get it back online. The first Domains4Less support representative Michael contacted was unhelpful to say the least, saying that the domain was suspended by SRSPlus because the contact details for it had not been verified.
After some toing and froing, Michael managed to get the contact details verified via a Gmail message but was then told it could take up to 72 hours for the domain to become active again.
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Luckily, it turned out he didn't have to wait that long. Michael found a helpful person at Domains4Less to talk to who got his domain back online quickly. For the next few days however, clients reported that they had problems emailing Michael.
Servers operating the global domain name system (DNS) that resolves a name to an internet protocol address cache data for hours and sometimes days, so it doesn't always get updated quickly. When a mail server looked up where to send messages destined for Michael's domain, it could not find a valid IP address and the emails bounced back to senders.
Quantifying the losses of being invisible on the internet and uncontactable are difficult, Michael told me.
Even though unexpected problems like the above happen to the best of us, they can look unprofessional, as in you're the one that's forgotten to renew the domain registration or made another mistake.
Having learnt the hard way that your online presence depends on multiple interconnected systems that are prone to human error, Michael's will say goodbye to Domains4Less and switch to a registrar that's clearer about communicating what customers need to do and which discloses resale relationships, if any.
You depend on the domain name registrar to interact properly with both you and other internet systems. Going for a cheap option could come back and bite you hard if they make mistakes, aren't helpful or can't be contacted.
Google the registrar for your domain and see what customers think of the company. Domains4Less scores a poor 1 ½ stars on Google, with reviewers saying its customer service is "absolutely terrible", "horrific, and "shocking".
Another thing worth considering is alternative ways for people to contact you in case things go wrong with your domain. That could be a minimal Facebook page for your business, a Twitter account and an emergency email address on a different domain, and adding those details to Google searches.
Directing people elsewhere is a dual-edged sword however. They might continue to contact you via the alternative channels so you have to direct them back to the business domain when it's back up.
If you haven't reviewed how your all-important domain is registered, take some time to do that now.
"Umbrellar chief financial officer Robert Rolls explained that Domains4Less uses SRS Plus and other upstream wholesale providers for non-.nz domains such .com ones. The .com and similar domains are regulated by ICANN.
Regulatory compliance with ICANN requirements means registrants are from time to time sent verification emails from SRS Plus. This is to protect registrants' security, and have to be verified within 15 days or the domain in question is temporarily suspended, Rolls said.
In Michael's case, the the verification email wasn't checked as the link between Domains4Less and SRS Plus wasn't fully understood, he added.
Domains4Less will make changes to avoid this from happening again.
"In response to learning of Michael's challenge we have added the relevant content to the marketing site to ensure that customers can check the requirements via the site as well as the sign up email notifications.
As a registrar our actions are always intended to be in the interests of registrants. We regret Michael's service experience and are grateful to him for his feedback via the article.
In this world of heightened internet security exposures, we encourage any domain name holders to contact their registrar immediately if receiving any communications in respect of their domains names," Rolls added.