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DIGITAL MANAGER

8.4.98  
Divorcing Your Web Service
The trick behind transferring your web site and E-mail is to do it without leaving your customers behind

You're expecting a critical deal-making E-mail when America Online Inc. has one of its maddening service outages. Or perhaps it's time to grow your business by developing a full-scale Web site for sales, but your Internet service provider can't seem to handle it. Either way, you've had enough: You're ready to find a new Internet service provider, or ISP in the vernacular.

But it's not always as simple as calling the digital equivalent of a moving van. If you don't handle the address change right, you'll wind up leaving your customers and partners behind.

A lot depends on whether you own your own domain name--the words that come after www. in your current Web address. If you own the name outright, your Web address would be www.bestwidgets.com, and your E-mail address would be yourname@bestwidgets.com. If that's the case, your task is relatively easy, if a bit tedious. After selecting a new ISP, and before canceling your old service, you have to reload your entire site onto the new server and debug it. When that's done, let your ISP know and they'll handle the task of making sure that traffic is diverted from your old server to the new one.

If you don't own the name, your Web address is probably a hybrid of your company name and the name of your ISP, such as www.BestWidgets.aol.com. Similarly, your E-mail address might be bestwidgets@aol.com. That's common with the free and low-cost Web sites used by some small businesses, but now you're going to pay for it, because you can't take the domain name with you.

In practice, this means you're going to have to tough it out with your errant provider--and continue paying the service fee--for several more weeks. This gives you time to inform your customers and colleagues of your new address by sending out traditional mail and E-mail notices before the change takes effect. Even then, some of those notices and customers are bound to go astray, so it's important to continue your old E-mail service and Web site even after the new site has been up for several months. The old page should clearly display the new address and include a link to it. Have the person who manages your Web site monitor the traffic and answer any stray mail until the old site receives only sporadic visits, then remove it from service.

Many ISPs will forward E-mail to your new address for free or for a nominal charge, although you may be required to maintain a minimal level of service with that provider. You also can use a little-known capability of most Internet E-mail programs (including popular programs like Microsoft Outlook and Qualcomm's Eudora Pro) to monitor multiple E-mail accounts. Unfortunately, major services such as America Online and CompuServe Inc. don't forward mail, and few Internet E-mail programs can check for mail on those services. As a result, you must keep those accounts active and log on periodically with their software to check your mail.

By now, you've probably caught on that it's cheaper and easier in the long run to have your own domain name because you don't have to notify users of the address change. (It's also a lot more professional-looking than a domain name strapped onto your ISP's address.) Some ISPs will help you obtain one, and it's easy to do it yourself by contacting an organization called InterNIC www.internic.net; 888-771-3000). There's a small registration fee--$70 the first year and $35 per year after that--and, of course, you can't use a name registered by somebody else. The downside: Most ISPs will charge extra if you use your own domain name. Depending on the provider, the additional cost could be as little as $10 extra per month. Prices increase as your Web and E-mail needs become more complex, but it seems a small price to pay if you want to avoid another round of pasting stamps and licking envelopes.

By David Haskin

David Haskin is the author of 12 books and a frequent contributor to national computer magazines.

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