Detailing Your Domain

So you finally broke down, filled out the paperwork with a registrar of your choice (such as Dotster.com), sent them a check, and called your ISP for an account upgrade. Now you're the proud but underwhelmed owner of a shiny new domain name. You've been told that having a domain name makes your site more "visible", or "valuable", or even "profitable", but you've got this nagging feeling that it just means more responsibilty. You're probably right.

Having an entire domain name to look after increases both your options and responsibilities: You have a lot more things (some of them not strictly web-related) you can or should do. Assuming you don't have your ISP doing everything for you, here's a crash course on some of the odd details you can worry about now. Some of them are very important, some are optional, and a few are completely superfluous.

Important Note: For the sake of clarity, all the examples below pretend your domain is called example.com, because that's the domain one is supposed to use for examples, because there's never going to be anybody there. Try not to be confused.

Assign some addresses

Now that you own a domain name, you theoretically own an infinite number of e-mail addresses, but there are a few important ones you may want to make sure are working. RFC 822 requires postmaster@example.com for any system sending e-mail on the Internet. Tim Berners-Lee recommends webmaster@example.com (which Thunderstone requires and xmlTree assumes). Alexa assumes webmaster@www.example.com, which most people find a little odd, but you can change that if you want. RFC 2142 suggests most of those and more.

Some net-abuse experts suggest creating abuse@example.com specifically to handle complaints about spam, chain-letters, and other bad things originating from a domain, but the RFC822-mandatory postmaster@example.com should be sufficient if yours is truly a private domain. Whatever mailbox you decide should handle complaints, you should considering registering it with the Network Abuse Clearinghouse contact database.

Opt-out or else

Unfortunately, with e-mail comes spam. With your own domain name comes even more spam. Why? Two reasons. First there are the really ambitious spammers, who suck addresses out of the InterNIC registration database. Second, there are the accidental spammers -- companies who send opt-in e-mail to people who've registered incorrect addresses. As the domain space fills up, it becomes more and more likely that a bogus or mistyped address will collide with a real one. To cite one such instance, RealNetworks' problems with accidental spamming are becoming legendary.

There are two approaches to spam-defense. First, install some spam-filters on your e-mail system. (I still like procmail(1), but I'm notoriously old-fashioned.) Second, consider stopping some of the spam before it gets to you by opting-out your entire domain. Most of the "opt-out" lists on the Web are useless (or worse, scams), but the SAFEeps database is legit. RealNetworks also allows entire domains to opt-out of its problematic mailing lists. I'm not guaranteeing these opt-outs will help, but neither one of them will hurt you, either.

Fill your root directory

Now that you administer a whole domain, there are a few special files you'll want to consider creating and placing in the root directory of your site (that's the one that hold the page people see when they look for http://www.example.com). None of these files are mandatory, but adding them will reduce the number of "404 Not Found" errors you find in your server logs, and increase your control of how people see your site. A robots.txt file will control most search engine robots. (SaveTheFreeWeb.com has proposed adblock.txt, but that's never going to happen.) site.idx will allow Aliweb to index your site (if Aliweb ever starts working again, that is). A favicon.ico will add a cute little icon to the Favorites menu when Internet Explorer 5.0 users bookmark your page.

Read the reviews

In case nobody told you about web annotation, there are a variety of programs that allow readers to annotate or review your website. Out of all these programs, Alexa is of special interest to domain owners for two reasons:

While most annotation software only makes annotations readable by users of the software, Alexa collects all the reviews of a given domain and makes them available on one page with a predictable and bookmarkable URI format — http://reviews.alexa.com/review?type=3&url=www.example.com:80/ is the review page for the non-existant example.com. (Once you get to this page, you can add a review without installing Alexa). Figure out the URI for your domain's review page and bookmark it (and/or the related Data Page — its URI is http://widener.alexa.com/cgi-bin/onepage.cgi?cli=10&url=www.example.com:80/) for future reference. If you want to encourage people to review your site, go ahead and add provide your readers with a direct link to the Review Page.

Perhaps even more important is the fact that Alexa uses the the InterNIC database to display your phone number and mailing address to users visiting any page in your domain. I'll discuss that in the the Directories section below.

Fix up the phonebooks

Know that form you had to fill out to register a domain name? It's more-or-less public information (available at your registrar's website), free for anyone to use and republish in other formats. While you can't take your information out of the original database, some of the "republishers" do allow you to change/limit what they reveal. So, if you're uncomfortable with your address and phone number being too accessible, go see if you're listed (as mentioned above) in Alexa.

Alexa, as mentioned previously, will display your address (with driving directions!) and phone number to its users. On the other hand, it ignores the e-mail addresses listed at InterNIC and suggests webmaster@www.example.com as the contact address for a domain. If any of that bothers you (I didn't like the "webmaster@www" part myself), you can correct the entry using the Alexa Site Information Editor.

Do keep in mind, changing the republished information only hides you from websurfers who don't know about whois(1). At best, you're hiding yourself from AOL users you probably would have ignored anyway.

Submit, Submit, Submit

Did you know there are search engines that only accept submissions for domain-level pages? I'm suspicious of their utility myself, but if you think they're a good idea, go submit your domain to Clickey, FAST Search, Surfgopher, and SelectedLink.

Assist the academics

After you've helped yourself, help contribute to human knowledge by looking up your domain in the Netcraft Web Server Survey. That will make sure you're included in future surveys, making a useful statistic a little more accurate and guaranteeing your site at least one hit a month.