Trouble in RegistrarLand

It was supposed to be‘s greatest hour. Last week, they announced that they would offer free domain registration for one hour on Thursday, March 23, from 9PM EST to 10PM EST.

Yes, absolutely free. How much for that domain name in the window? Nada, zilch, nothing.

But for a lot of people, it seemed too good to be true. And for a lot of people, it just didn’t happen. At about 9:01pm, the site started to experience VERY sluggish response times. First, they claimed the NSI registry stopped answering…. Then their nameserver crashed… Then the web server crashed. Then, hopeful registrants around the Internet started talking.. and talking… and talking…

It’s Scalability, Stupid!

In the end, the issue came down to one simple overlooked issue: Yes, you guessed it.

It’s give me an S…
give me a C…
give me an A…
give me an L…
give me another A…
tired yet?
give me a B…
give me an I…
and another L…
and another I…
and a T…
and finally a Y!

What does that spell…. SCALABILITY!

While they were expecting under 500,000 unique visitors, they logged over 2 million attempts to enter the site and in the end under 10000 names were registered.

As a result, RegisterFree went from being the new kid going against Network Solutions to joining the ranks of Victoria’s Secrets and ABC in the annals of sites that failed to scale to demand.

By 12:10am tonight, RegisterFree issued the following statement: Ladies and Gentlemen:
This was truly awesome. We never expected ANYTHING like the AMAZING response we
received to our RegisterFREE Free Hour Promotion. At certain times over the course of the evening, the NSI registry (the universal database which provides domain name availability checks) was unable to process requests for those domain name availability checks. As a result, traffic was significantly slowed at times, and some people were unable to register their domain name. We hope to receive better support from NSI Registry during our next promotion, which will be coming up very shortly. We can safely say that hundreds of thousands of people came to tonight, and thousands were able to register their domain name for free. At this point, we ask all those who were unable to register a domain name to send an email to [email protected] and let us know, so we can deal with each query personally. Congratulations to all of those customers who did get through and were able to submit their registration request. STRONGLY believes that Domain Name Registration should be 100% free, and we will have this promotion again very soon. Again, thank you for your continued patience and support as we try to make all domain names 100% free. The RegisterFREE team.

Now I can hear many of you scoff at the fact that they couldn’t scale.

Yes, it’s true, they mis-planned but how many of us plan for such traffic surges? And how do you plan for something like that. Do you overbuild and hope that people will come? What is the factor by which you have to multiply your expectations and get an appropriate number. Last summer, went down on its first day, deluged by over 1 million requests. Should we use 1 million as the magic number?

Many large web sites have been designed with little attention paid to scalability and every time one of them fails, we all look bad. Why? Simply because the Internet is considered as unreliable when that happens and THAT scares away potential customers.

Don’t believe me? Try asking my 82-years-old neighbor! When Yahoo! and Ebay were taken down, she was so scared by the negative press that she told me she wouldn’t shop online because hackers would steal her credit card and overcharge it. After explaining to her that she was only liable for $50 maximum and that incidents like this were rare on the Internet, I think I managed to rescue one more customer on the Internet.

But enough negative publicity along the lines of what I expect to see in tomorrow morning’s newspaper (especially considering the great coverage RegisterFree managed to get BEFORE the event) is undermining consumer confidence in the Internet and that is what I worry about.

But Wait! It Gets Better!

More troubling was the fact that they were blaming it onNSI. While I don’t particularly like NSI, I have to say that their whois was working tonight. I spent all evening checking domain names in the NSI whois while I was trying to get into It worked fine for me, actually working faster than it usually does. I even ended up registering domain names from there. pointed out that someone at NSI decided to take the “registry processing systems offline for an indeterminate amount of time” but other registrars were fine. After the promotion ended, RegisterFree was still the subject of some discussion regarding ethical issues. It may be just a technicality but other registrars like Bulk Register and Enom (just to take a couple of names from the ICANN accredited list) are cheaper.

So can registerfree be trusted? I just provide the links. You make the call.

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