When Domains Go Missing

One of the particular challenges faced in the preservation of Web sites is the persistency of Web site domain. If your resources are held on the main institutional Web site, particularly one with a .ac.uk domain name, then your domain is unlikely to disappear – and if it does, then this will probably be a result of your institution being shut down.

If, however, you are using an alternative domain name (such as a .org, .org.uk, .co.uk or .com) then you will need to take care in managing the registration for your domain. If you have an annual re-registration for your domain, you will need to ensure that your internal administrative management procedures will ensure that the domain name is renewed prior to the expiry date – and be warned, that if you fail to renew the domain name, you may find that the domain is purchased by a third party. If you inadvertently fail to renew the domain name subscription in time and find that your domain has been purchased by a third party, you may find yourself in the position of having to pay what could be a significant fee to repossess the domain name.

You may ask why you would wish to make use of a non-.ac.uk domain in light of such possible dangers (JA.NET, the organisation responsible for managing .ac.uk domains, I am pleased to say, does not sell off its domains to the highest bidder). There may be legitimate reasons for this – the domain may be used for an EU-funded project, for example, or the domain may be used to support a cross-sectoral service for which it is not possible to obtain a .ac.uk domain. In light of this the advice to institutions may be to:

  • Carry out an audit of use of non-.ac.uk domains.
  • Ensure that such domains have adequate administrative processes in place to ensure that the domain name is not lost if, for example, project funding ceases and staff involved in the project leave.
  • Carry out a risk assessment of the dangers of losing such domains and the costs your institution may be willing to pay to claim back the domain.

Note that a good example of an EU-project which probably has a valuable domain name is the DESIRE project, which used the www.desire.org domain name. The list of DESIRE partners includes the University of Bristol (the coordinating contractor), UKOLN (my organisation) together with several European organisations. It is pleasing that this Web site domain has remained in its current status since the project funding ceased in 2000. Does your institution have adequate safeguards?