The primary SAA website, flysaa.com, was offline for part of Saturday and Sunday after an administrative error put the domain under suspension.
SAA’s internet service provider, The Net Technologies, neglected to pay the annual fees that give the airline the right to use the domain, and nobody noticed until it was automatically suspended. As a result, all customers who tried to access www.flysaa.com were instead presented with a message from the registrar for the .com top level domain, Network Solutions.
By Sunday afternoon the error had been corrected (all it took was a payment of a couple of dollars, which could be done by credit card within minutes) and SAA was down to the business of dodging the media while it apportioned blame and figured out how much business it had lost. Meanwhile the airline was being pilloried for its technical incompetence.
But SAA is in good company in this regard. Microsoft has had crucial domain names lapse more than once; in 1999 it failed to pay for the Passport.com domain, which locked many users out of its online services, and it temporarily lost control of Hotmail.co.uk in 2003. The predecessor magazine to The Daily Maverick permanently lost a .com domain that had been parked for future use when the service provider, WebAfrica, failed to do its part. Read the right blogs and you’ll come across similar incidents on a regular basis. The websites just aren’t significant enough for the temporary outages or loss of domain names to make the news.
In virtually none of these cases does the fault lie with the domain name holder, at least not directly. Just about every domain name registration is administered by an internet service provider; even individuals prefer to pay a small extra fee and use the automated or semi-automated systems of such companies rather than handle the paperwork themselves. Although annual domain name fees are tiny (on the order of hundreds of rands for almost every top level in the world), the cumulative amount that internet service providers pay on behalf of their customers every year can start adding up to real money. And like all clever businesses, these ISPs try to optimise their cash flow.
The result is that most ISPs will wait until the very last second before making a required domain name payment. Sometimes their systems fail. Sometimes they miscalculate. However it happens, when something goes wrong the impact on customers can be catastrophic. Yet the service providers tend to not learn from their mistakes.
Here’s hoping SAA sues the pants off The Net Technologies. If the damages are monumental enough it may provide a much-needed kick to the rear end of the industry.
Are You A South AfriCAN or a South AfriCAN'T?
Maverick Insider is more than a reader revenue scheme. While not quite a "state of mind", it is a mindset: it's about believing that independent journalism makes a genuine difference to our country and it's about having the will to support that endeavour.
From the #GuptaLeaks into State Capture to the Scorpio exposés into SARS, Daily Maverick investigations have made an enormous impact on South Africa and it's political landscape. As we enter an election year, our mission to Defend Truth has never been more important. A free press is one of the essential lines of defence against election fraud; without it, national polls can turn very nasty, very quickly as we have seen recently in the Congo.
If you would like a practical, tangible way to make a difference in South Africa consider signing up to become a Maverick Insider. You choose how much to contribute and how often (monthly or annually) and in exchange, you will receive a host of awesome benefits. The greatest benefit of all (besides inner peace)? Making a real difference to a country that needs your support.
Kids in the United Kingdom spend less time outside than prison inmates.