The Basics of Choosing and Obtaining a Domain Name

Thinking of starting a new website? Two preliminary steps are choosing a domain name for your new site and then buying that domain name. Let’s take a look at some of the basics involved in that process.

Choosing a Domain Name

A good domain name is easy to remember and easy to spell. A domain name that’s easy to spell shouldn’t have characters like hyphens between words. It you want more than one word in the name, run them together like alistapart.com or webstandardssherpa.com. It’s a bit awkward to read, but for someone typing the domain name for A List Apart or Web Standards Sherpa in the location bar of a browser, it makes perfect sense.

Are you starting a website for an established business? Try to make the name reflect the business name and the branding that is already in place for the business. This may be a bit hard if it’s a commonly used name. For example, a Denver floor tile company might have trouble getting the name mountaintile.com. But perhaps denvermountaintile.com might be available.

If it’s a personal website, try to use your name. Karen McGrane owns karenmcgrane.com. How simple is that?

If it’s a blog where you’ll be exploring a particular point of view, pick a domain name that reflects your point of view. A name like Mountain Poet or Lesbian Dad tells you a story about what you can expect from the website before you’ve even visited.

Before you seek out a place to purchase the domain name, it’s good to have a few ideas ready to go. Your first choice might not be available.

Obtaining a Domain Name

Okay, you’ve got some ideas for a great domain name. It’s time to see what’s available for purchase.

There are literally thousands of places where you can buy a domain name. I use the domain name services connected to the hosting company where I do business. I like having the domain name company and the web hosting company connected. But I know people who think this is a bad idea. I think the reasoning of the people who think it’s a bad idea is that if one company shuts down suddenly, at least the other one still operates. If you choose an established company with a good history, I don’t think it’s something you need to worry about.

If you search for domain names on Google you get 84,000,000 results. There are a lot of choices! I’ll just pick one to use as an example. This does not imply that I endorse this company, it’s just an example. Also, prices vary, so the prices you see in these examples may be different from other domain name sellers.

A typical domain name search form.

A typical domain name search form.

At domain.com, you see something similar to what you see on any site where you want to purchase a domain name. You enter the name you are hoping to purchase. The site will tell you if the name is available. If it’s not available exactly as you want it, the site will suggest alternatives that are close to what you want.

I searched for vdebolt.com, my own domain name. Here’s what the tool told me.

The .com is gone, but other top level domains for that name are available.

The .com is gone, but other top level domains for that name are available.

I can’t buy vdebolt.com (duh, I already own it) but other top level domain name types are available like vdebolt.net or vdebolt.org. (Domain names are cheap. Many people buy several variations and direct them all to one site.)

If the name you want isn’t available, choosing whether or not to go with a .net or .org or some other .whatever is an option.

If you don’t want the .org or .net or .whatever, the tools usually suggest variations of the name based on your original search. Here are a few suggested to me:

A few of the suggested variations on my domain name.

A few of the suggested variations on my domain name.

Even better, create your own variations like the denvermountaintile.com example and use the search tool to see if it is available.

If you can’t get a name close to what you originally wanted, go back to step one and brainstorm a new idea. Keep trying until you eventually find a name that will work and is available.

You can buy the name for 1 year or for several. You’ll probably save a few dollars if you buy several years at a time. Don’t forget to renew it on time, or you might lose it!

You’re all set. Go build something awesome.

[Note: This post was originally published on Blogher.com.]

A Must See Movie: The Imitation Game

Keira Knightly and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game.

Keira Knightly and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game.

I don’t normally review movies here, but I’m making an exception of this film about the early beginnings of the computer because I think it’s a must see for anyone working with a computer.

The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch as English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing. Turing helped crack the Enigma machine, a Nazi encryption device, by developing a code breaking machine which has come to be known as the computer.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing next to his "Turing machine."

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing next to his “Turing machine.”

Cumberbatch gives a brilliant performance. He’s absolutely flawless as this graceless, socially inept, mathematical genius who was a marathon runner and a closeted homosexual.

The team of mathematical genius watching the first time they decrypt a message from the Enigma machine

The team of mathematical geniuses at Bletchley Park watching the first time they decrypt a message from the Enigma machine.

Others starring in The Imitation Game are Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, and Matthew Beard as the team at Bletchly Park, site of the UK’s code and encryption school, who worked together to crack the Enigma machine.

Charles Dance plays the commander and Rory Kinnear plays the detective whose decision to prosecute Turing for homosexuality probably led to his death.

Alex Lawther plays the school boy Turing: a wonderful performance from one so young. By peering into Turing’s past, it helps the audience see how so many things that happened were the way they were.

The movie starts in 1951 and jumps between that time, the war years, and Turing’s school days.

For anyone interested in computers (and who isn’t) this movie is a must see. Additionally, it’s an excellent rendering of an important historical period, complete with film from the time. The film looks at what it means to be different, to not fit in, and to be forced to hide what you are for fear of imprisonment.

Images ©Black Bear Pictures

For Completeness

For completeness, you may want to watch some of the other movies about Alan Turing. Sir Derek Jacobi played him in the 1997 Breaking the Code. There’s a documentary called Codebreaker. If you haven’t already seen these two films, they should be watched as well. I intend to watch them!

If you want to go old school and get more factual information than a movie offers, there are some books about Alan Turing: Alan Turing: The Enigma: The Book That Inspired the Film “The Imitation Game” and Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma.

Characters, Symbols and the Unicode Miracle – Computerphile (Video)

What exactly is UTF-8? I’m always telling students to choose it as the character encoding for their HTML documents. It turns out that representing symbols, characters and letters that are used worldwide is not easy, but UTF-8 managed it. Tom Scott explains how the web has settled on a standard. @tomscott

Givers and Takers in the Web World

I’m reading Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Successby Adam Grant. Here’s the premise of the book from the book jacket:

In professional interactions, it turns out that most people operate as either takers, matchers, or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.

The book dissects how givers, takers, and matchers achieve success – and hang on to success – while others may ultimately fail. Adam Grant is a professor at The Wharton School. The book is based on research and many studies. I was afraid from the title that it might be some of that woo-woo stuff like you read in The Secret, but this is based on research.

It’s an enlightening book and a new way of thinking about success.

Grant’s premise is that givers, people who put the success of the team or the company or the other person in an interaction above their own success, if they do it right, ultimately become the most successful and valuable people to have around.

I’m only a little over half way through the book, but I keep having the same thought as I read. Grant talks mostly about famous men: Ken Lay from Enron, George Meyer from “The Simpsons,” basketball star Michael Jordan, Obama aide Reggie Love. I keep thinking, but what would he say about Sheryl Sandberg or Oprah Winfrey?

As I read, my mind also goes to the people in the web design world. Not world famous names, but people who make this little niche of the world work. Who are the givers are takers and matchers? It was easy to come up with names of men I think would be considered givers. A couple of quick examples: Jeffrey Zeldman, Eric Meyer. But what about women?

Two Women

I want to mention two women in the web design world that I’ve had the experience of working with, and who I consider givers.

Glenda Sims (@goodwitch) is someone I’ve always thought of as a connector. She knows everyone. Ten minutes after you meet her and she hears a bit about who you are and what you do, she’s giving you names of people you should meet, dragging you off to meet them, telling both of you how you can help each other.

I worked with her when creating the web education curriculum that began its life under the name InterACT and has now gone to live at the W3C. This was a team of people who volunteered to build a web standards based curriculum and put it on the web to give away. Glenda wrote little bits of this material, but the real contribution she made was in herding everyone along, in keeping everyone productive, in finding the right person for a job, in managing time and information for everyone else, in knowing where to get funding. Glenda’s name is not the big name attached to this project, but if she hadn’t been there acting as a giver, the project might not have succeeded.

Search Flickr for Glenda Sims and you find her face next to most of the people you’ve heard of in the web design world. I wasn’t kidding when I said she knows everybody.

Another woman I consider a giver is Zoe Gillenwater (@zomigi). I first became aware of Zoe years ago when the CSS Discuss mailing list was part of my regular reading. The list was about 9 parts people struggling with CSS questions and trying to learn it and 1 part people who were willing to answer questions and help others learn. Zoe was one of that 10% who spent hours answering, explaining, clarifying, helping. She was obviously brilliant at CSS and has gone on to prove it in many ways since. But back then, she was an unknown.

She’s not unknown now, as you can see in a Flickr search.

I worked directly with Zoe when my publisher asked her to be the technical editor for one of my books. Maybe you aren’t aware of this, but technical editors get paid about 50 cents an hour for what they do. It’s a crappy job. But Zoe took on the job with every intention of being the best at it and she was. She was most excellent at making sure that the CSS material in my book was correct and in helping me learn about and use the best CSS examples and techniques available at the time. It was my name of the cover of the book, not hers, but she took the time to give me a lot more than she actually had to to make sure the book was a good one.

If you have stories about the givers in the web design world, men or women, I hope you’ll share them in the comments. Let’s recognize the givers who make all of us a success.

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