Tech Talk | How a man in Argentina was able to buy the google.com.ar domain for less than $4

Many people are under the impression that they
Many people are under the impression that they "own" a domain name. Picture: Shutterstock.

Stick with me while I do some back of the envelope maths. Google performs 3.5 billion searches every day. Assume that is one visit to Google per search. Google has country specific domains (like google.com.au).

Argentina (just picking a random country) has approximately 0.58 per cent of the world population so, if all searches were distributed evenly across the country-specific domains then that would equate to 235 visits to google.com.ar each and every second.

For most organisations, 846,000 visits per hour would be an incredible boost to their bottom line - and that is exactly what one web designer managed to achieve recently. He noticed that google.com.ar was down so he visited the organisation responsible for domain names in Argentina and, much to his disbelief, the domain name was able to be registered.

He paid his 270 pesos (around AU$3.75) and he was the proud owner of google.com.ar along with all that traffic! It lasted for about two hours before Google took back control but, as a result of this little incident, many people have asked me exactly how domain registrations work.

People are mostly familiar with governmental registrations - a birth certificate or a business name. We understand that a government in a certain country is responsible for certifying those names and being responsible for the allocation of those names.

The problem with the internet is that it doesn't necessarily recognise international borders. Luckily there is an international organisation that is in charge. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the non-profit organisation that oversees the assignment of domain names.

The entire Domain Name System (DNS) is designed for humans to allow an easy to remember string of characters to be translated in to an IP address. Behind the scenes, the computers are sending packets of data to an IP address such as 142.250.66.164. Imagine trying to remember that instead.

Behind ICANN there are a series of registry operators and registrars and resellers across the world who deal with the actual registration of the domains with individuals and organisations. Specific information must be published in a WHOIS database for each domain name.

Apart from name and contact details for the domain registration, the domain name must also have name servers associated with the domain. The nominated name server then has a zone file corresponding to that domain which translates words in to numbers. It sounds complicated - because it is. Resolving a problem with a domain can be a long and tedious process.

Many people are under the impression that they "own" a domain name. This isn't technically correct. No organisation really owns a domain name. Instead, they are paying for the right to use a domain name.

It is almost surprising that the system works as well as it does when it is largely based on a series of complex agreements among a range of international organisations.

A bit like world series cricket, you could technically start a competing domain names system, but getting everyone to agree to the new system and making all devices around the world work on that would be difficult.

So what happened in Argentina? Was it a simple case of Google forgetting to pay their renewal fees for that domain? Google says no. In such a complicated system, I am sure we will hear the real answer in several months but in the meantime, 1.7 million people in Argentina have heard of Nicolas Kurona.

Tell me what domain name you would like pointing to your site at ask@techtalk.digital.

  • Mathew Dickerson is a technologist, futurist and a founder of tech start-ups.