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One year on: the learning curve at CENTR

(Originally posted on 8 January 2016)

- Where do you work? - In a European association in Brussels. - What kind of association? - We represent European country code top-level domain registries. - …What?

Yes, I’m certain that many people working in or gravitating around the domain name industry has had pretty much the same kind of conversation with friends and family. How many of us simply give up on the famous explanation that inevitably needs to follow? Where to start??

I was promised a steep learning curve when I started at CENTR in January 2015 and to be honest, I was very much looking forward to it. I strived for the challenge to learn about an industry I knew nothing about. But as I joyfully dove deeper and deeper into the fascinating world of internet and domain names, I realised two things: firstly, that I would never understand at least 75% of it (forget about all the technical aspects: I wasn’t diving into the knowledge, I was just wading about) and secondly, that nobody around me except colleagues, members, etc. understood what I was doing. And that’s a big issue for a communications person: I need to be able to explain in simple words what domain names are and why they’re important.

So one year on, here’s what I answer when I’m asked “who do you work for”. The “what do you do exactly” question is another topic entirely.

Short answer

You know web addresses: they always end in either .com, .org, .ca, .be, etc.? (Yes…) Well there are organisations managing these .com, .ca, etc. (Ok…) Our association represents the organisations that manage country code ones. (Country codes?) Like .be for Belgium, .ca for Canada, etc.

Long answer

(What do you mean, they “manage” them?) They are called registries. Like wedding registries, they basically keep a list, or database, of all the web addresses under their care, so they have a list of all web addresses that end with .be, for example. And web addresses are actually called “domain names” in the jargon. If you want to create a website, you need to buy a domain name (among other things), like www.alexandrinegauvin.com. (Oh ok, so your members sell domain names?) Not exactly. Like wedding registries, they manage the list, but you need to go to a shop to buy the things on the list, right? (Yes) So the shops in question are called “registrars” for domain names. If you want to buy a domain name, you buy it from a registrar and the registrars deal with the registries to buy domain names in bulk. This is the simplified version of the food chain, but it gives you an idea. There is only one registry per country managing its own country code, but there are thousands of registrars worldwide selling hundreds of different kinds of top-level domains. (You seem quite enthusiastic about this!) I am, this is such an interesting world! Did you know that domain names are actually IP addresses in disguise?? And did you know that only country codes have two characters at top level and that all other top-level domains have three or more characters? (You’re losing me.) Ok wait, here’s an easy breakdown of what CENTR is.

COUNCIL OF EUROPEAN -- NATIONAL -- TOP-LEVEL DOMAIN -- REGISTRIES

Council of European”: this is just another way of saying that we are a European association. There a many European associations in Brussels representing many different industries, sectors or stakeholders, but all of them have members that get services from a secretariat based (most of the time) in Brussels, with mainly European members. Some do more advocacy work towards European Union institutions than others: in the case of CENTR, the association’s main goal is to serve as a platform for exchange of best practices amongst members. This is especially useful to them since, as mentioned, there is only one registry per country. CENTR also has associate members that are not country code registries, but that’s a whole other topic.

National”: refers to the fact that there is only one country code registry per country, hence the fact that our members are the “national” registries in their respective countries.

Top-level domain”: a domain name is composed of several parts separated by dots. For example, in the domain www.alexandrinegauvin.co.uk, the “.uk” is the top level, “.co” the second level and “.alexandrinegauvin” the third level. I will not go into what the domain name system is and how it works (see this video), but that’s the general idea: top-level domains are managed by registries, which either sell domain names themselves or wholesale to registrars. Domain names are also used for email and the behind-the-scene mechanics of the Internet, but let’s stay focused.

Registries”: these are our member organisations. Wikipedia offers a very satisfactory definition of what a domain name registry is: a registry is “a database of all domain names and the associated registrant information in the top-level domains of the Domain Name System (DNS) of the Internet that allow third party entities to request administrative control of a domain name”. It is worth noting that many of our members do a lot of work in addition to managing their registry’s database, but once again, this is a topic in itself.

All in all, I can hardly believe how quickly this first year went by! It has been a happy whirlwind of new knowledge, meeting amazing people and discovering a whole new (online) world. Most importantly, I have joined an exceptional team at CENTR and a wonderful ccTLD community, and I can guess that 2016 will fly by just as fast.


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