Registrars Warn Customers, But Is That Enough?
Handshake is one of many competing systems trying to bring the concept of domain names to the blockchain. It competes with Ethereum Name Service, Unstoppable Domains, and a handful of other initiatives.
It is unique in that a few traditional domain name registrars offer the domains alongside traditional domain names. For example, Namecheap sells domains in 14 Handshake top-level domains. This is remarkable because Namecheap is one of the largest registrars; it typically sells the second most .com registrations each month behind GoDaddy.
Handshake domains don’t work like normal domains. So, do consumers understand what they are buying? This is an important issue both for the registrars offering the domains and for the domain name ecosystem as a whole, as it can be clouded by consumer confusion.
To combat confusion, registrars tell customers what they are buying. But the importance of these notices varies from registrar to registrar.
Contact domains at Namecheap are presented differently depending on whether you search by extension or simply by keyword.
For example, if you enter a second-level string followed by .c (a handshake TLD), the result displays the word Handshake in a blue circle and an informative tooltip is displayed:
If you hover over the tooltip, it says:
Handshake domains are new TLDs based on a distributed and decentralized blockchain-based system. They are not yet compatible with most traditional DNS systems. Learn more.
If you’re not searching directly by name, Handshake domains are in a separate tab with a notice at the top:
There is no additional notice once you add the domain to your shopping cart.
Porkbun has a much more visible warning. When you search for a domain, a notice appears at the top of the page. There is also a Handshake logo next to the name in the search results. Hovering over it displays this tooltip:
Handshake is an experimental, permissionless naming protocol that uses blockchain technology to create a decentralized root zone. These names currently require special software or network configuration to resolve, they don’t behave like normal domains.
So far, it’s pretty much the same as Namecheap. But if you want to register the Handshake domain, Porkbun steps it up a notch to alert customers to what they’re getting.
First, there is a pop-up warning the consumer of the risks associated with the handshake. Customers must click a button to continue. Once they receive the basket, there is another warning similar to the first one. It reads:
Experimental Name Warning
No refunds, no exceptions, don’t even ask, seriously
Handshake is an experimental, permissionless naming protocol that uses blockchain technology to create a decentralized root zone, as opposed to a centralized root zone regulated by ICANN. You can learn more about the Handshake Protocol at handshake.org
There are no guarantees with handshake names. You may not be able to renew handshake names upon expiration, and the TLD on which you purchase the domain may stop working before expiration.
Since handshake names do not use the same root zone as other domains on the Internet, they currently do not and may never resolve like normal domains. These names require special browser plugins or network configurations. Also, Porkbun services such as email, SSL certificate generation and others do not work on handshake names.
With handshake names, there is an inherent risk of collision with names on other blockchains, other naming technologies, and with ICANN-regulated domains. There is no guarantee that the handshake names you purchase are unique or that they will not clash now or in the future.
It reads like one of the risk warnings in an SEC filing.
Are Namecheap and Handshake doing enough?
I think it depends on who the consumers are.
Some customers approach these registrars directly for the purpose of registering a Handshake domain. For example, someone might hear about hi.tx and go to PorkBun because they know they can register a .tx domain there. They probably don’t need a big warning.
The trickiest issue involves the typical domain registrant, who may not be aware.
PorkBun certainly seems to have a very strong warning. (It should be noted that PorkBun used to mix Handshake domains with regular domains with an added icon, but it no longer does.)
EnCirca also offers Handshake domains, as well as other blockchain namespaces. It has a tooltip next to the search results, but the warning isn’t as prominent. That said, EnCirca specializes in unique domain names, and I think most customers know what they’re buying.
It seems only time will tell if these warnings are enough to help customers understand what they are buying.