Super Shock! Non-Profit Client’s Domain Stolen

I was in for a shock last week when I visited the website of a non-profit whose website I recently redesigned in WordPress.

Instead of seeing the non-profit’s website, I found a page full of ads reading at the top, “This page is parked free courtesy of [a different web hosting firm than the one the non-profit uses].” Using Network Solution’s WHOIS behind that domain? page, I discovered the non-profit’s domain registration information had been deleted, causing it to be cancelled under Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) policy against incomplete or false registration data.

It turns out a third party had been tapped to register the non-profit’s domain name several years back. When the non-profit moved away from an HTML website with a monthly maintenance fee to a more modern but free WordPress site, some feathers were ruffled, spurring the person to delete the registration information and refuse to take any action to restore it. Since the person was the domain’s owner plus administrative and billing contact, nothing can be done to get the domain back (short of hiring an attorney at great expense).

The lesson learned here is if you work for a small non-profit (or any type of organization of any size) make sure your domain name is registered to your organization and not a third party. You also should:

  • Make sure your domain owner contact is one of the highest members of your organization
  • Make sure you list a second contact for site administration who is equally one of the highest members of your organization
  • Use one firm to register your domain name and a second firm for web hosting so the people who maintain your website cannot change your domain registration information if they become disgruntled
  • Review and update your domain registration information (e.g., contact names, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, etc.) every year

My story does have a happy ending. The non-profit went ahead and registered a new domain name (which is actually more appropriate than the old one) and transferred the website to the new address. Thanks to Twitter’s live search results, search engines are already picking up the domain name change.

Has anything similar happened to you? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

Video Clip of the Month: Chris Brogan Interview

My May 2010 video clip of the month is an interview Chris Brogan gave for the LikeMinds conference in the United Kingdom. Brogan, arguably one of the top social media experts in the world, discusses his vision for social media’s future.  Here’s the YouTube video:

Living Stories WordPress Plugin & Theme Released

Google released a Living Stories plugin and theme for WordPress yesterday enabling anyone who publishes through WordPress to organize coverage of an ongoing event on a single dynamic page. Living Stories is an experimental format for displaying news coverage that Google created in partnership with the New York Times and Washington Post.

Google software engineer Eric Zhang wrote about the process of developing the plugin on the Google News Blog.

“Our next step was to open-source the Living Stories form, allowing publishers to build on it using Google’s AppEngine infrastructure. We then released a version of the code that runs independent of our infrastructure. Since then, a number of publications have shared their ideas for ways we can offer additional tools to help them create Living Stories. The WordPress plugin is a direct result of those conversations.”

Living Stories is like a personalized RSS feed reader, but customized to pay attention to just one story. The story is customized to the user, keeping track of what they have already seen so that it can alert them when new content is available.

Below is a GoogleVideos YouTube video on the benefits of Google’s Living Stories.

Ning Users to Say Good-Bye to Free Networks

Ning–the popular service allowing users to build their own social networks,–is making massive staff cutbacks, increasing its fees for premium services, and cutting off its free services. All Ning users who have been getting their social networks for free of charge will now be asked to start paying fees or phase off the Ning platform.

Ning claims more than 46 million users spread over 300,000 social networks. The vast majority of its users are non-profits and other small groups who rely on Ning’s free service.

When the company announced April 15 that it would shift to an exclusively subscription-based model, it said the needs of its free and paid clients were so different that it had to choose one of the groups to be its focus. In the words of Ning’s new CEO, Jason Rosenthal:

“When I became CEO 30 days ago, I told you I would take a hard look at our business. This process has brought real clarity to what’s working, what’s not, and what we need to do now to make Ning a big success.

My main conclusion is that we need to double down on our premium services business. Our Premium Ning Networks[...] drive 75% of our monthly U.S. traffic, and those Network Creators need and will pay for many more services and features from us.

So, we are going to change our strategy to devote 100% of our resources to building the winning product to capture this big opportunity. We will phase out our free service. Existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning[...] All of our product development capability will be devoted to making paying Network Creators extremely happy.”

This is not the first time that non-profits relying on free Internet services have been burned. Last November, Causes, a fund-raising application, stopped working with MySpace, deleting users’ content and communications. Ideablob, a service that created a platform for people to discuss business ideas and awarded cash prizes to the most popular ones, also shut down last November when its parent company filed for bankruptcy. Neither Causes nor Ideablob alerted registered users about their sudden shut-downs.

Ning, however, has alerted users they need to start forking money over for its premium services or prepare for being shut down.  Ning’s premium fees include custom URLs at $5 per month, customer support starting at $10 per month, extra bandwidth and storage at $10 per month, removal of Ning links at the bottom of pages at $25 per month, and an ad-free interface at $25 per month.

UPDATE: Ning announced May 4, 2010, that it had signed a letter of intent with a major educational publisher to keep its service free for educators. Teachers will be able to use a new product called, “Ning Minis,” but it’s unclear at this time what kind of control the company will have over Ning Minis and how much advertising they will contain.

Video Clip of the Month: Social Media for Good Causes

My April 2010 video clip of the month features Beth Kanter giving a 40-minute presentation on how non-profits can use social media to promote their causes and raise funds. Kanter is the author of Beth’s Blog, one of the longest running and most popular blogs for non-profits. Here’s the YouTube video: