How can I own my domain?

Just last week I was busily renewing domain names without paying much attention. Then a friend wrote with a question that bears repeating and answering in a forum like this. This friend has a vanity domain and wants to make sure they keep it.

I want to own the domain, like I would own a piece of property. I recognize that I need to pay for the hosting, but I don’t want to pay regularly for the address. I want this address to be mine, until I die, or until we find something better than the internet.

Something better than the internet? OK so that wasn't the question. Especially with a recent spate of articles about domain names as the new real estate it would be easy to fall into a real estate model. Instead a more fitting comparison would be to business ownership. Ultimately the process of getting a domain name starts with having a registrar who can register the name for you. Often this may be bundled with website hosting but the two are separate (and I'll explain why they should be kept very separate in a few sentences).

The domain name registrar is akin to a secretary of state. When you setup shop in business you file papers with the secretary of state to form the corporation. Filing for a domain name is simpler in most cases (.edu's aren't included here) but the model is the same. As a would-be business owner you file with the secretary of state whereas in the online world you file with a domain registrar. The basic process, however, is the same. Once you've filed the first time there is an annual filing and fee that must be paid to keep the domain. Having the domain is the first step to being able to use it but a name by itself doesn't do much for you until it gets put to use. Putting it to use is where the hosting company comes in. For those who don't own their own server with a shiny fiber-optic cable to the house, the hosting company is the leasing agent for the office space they need.

In the next few weeks I'll be returning to this topic with some hints on how to be successful with registering and owning your own domain name.