More companies are turning to service providers to manage their growing domain name portfolios.With thousands of brands and decentralized business operations, The Hearst Corp. was having trouble managing its portfolio of more than 1,500 domain names.Important domain names had accidentally expired. Speculators had snapped up other names, prompting expensive legal action. Hearst employees who were listed as billing, technical and administrative contacts on domain name registrations had left the company, so renewal notices weren't being received.To fix the problem, Hearst has outsourced the management of its domain name portfolio to VeriSign. Now VeriSign automatically renews Hearst's domain names using standard contact information and provides a consolidated monthly bill.Hearst is not alone. More companies are turning to service providers such as\u00a0VeriSign\u00a0and\u00a0Arcemus\u00a0(purchased by Iron Mountain in May) to manage their growing domain name portfolios.Meanwhile, companies that want to manage their own domain name portfolios can choose from software packages such as Name Stalker, Watch My Domains Pro and Domain Punch Professional, and beefed-up Web-based reporting and alerting tools from domain name registrars."Companies have more and more names to manage. What they were finding was that they had lost control over what they had," says Champ Mitchell, CEO of Network Solutions, a leading domain name registry for U.S. corporations.That's what happened to Hearst. The New York media conglomerate had about 100 people registering and renewing domain names for its magazines, newspapers, cable networks, television and radio stations."We're a very brand-intensive organization," says Peter Rowlinson, CTO of Hearst Business Media. "We were managing our domain names in a semi-autonomous fashion. We have multiple divisions, and we had struggled with setting up policies and procedures and communicating those."So Hearst's IT Strategy Team set up a committee that included representatives of its various business units and the legal department, and employees who had registered names in the past. The committee conducted a company-wide inventory of domain names and established procedures for domain name registrations and renewals.Then the committee conducted a cost-benefit analysis and decided to outsource the management of its domain name portfolio. Last fall, Hearst signed a two-year contract with VeriSign for its Digital Brand Management Services."VeriSign was the only vendor that met all of our requirements," Rowlinson says. "We needed consolidated monthly billing tied into our back-end billing system. The invoice had to be processed as a single transaction in our service center."While VeriSign sells outsourced domain name management services, Network Solutions offers automated tools for companies that want to manage their own domain name portfolios.Network Solutions has overhauled and updated its Online Account Management Tool during the last 18 months to provide added functionality to corporate clients, some of whom own more than 10,000 names. New features make it easier to standardize contact names and keep them current. An alerting capability lets companies know when a name is going to expire."We offer a complete suite that allows people to manage their names in bulk, to manage across multiple accounts and consolidate accounts," Mitchell says. "We allow them to delegate some management functions but still retain control."One company that uses Network Solution's tool is LexisNexis, an online legal research service in New York. LexisNexis has 800 domain names, which the company's telecom group manages."I originally created my own spreadsheets because I had so many names to keep track of, but then they came out with their own tool. I like the feature that tells me when it's time to renew a name," says John Mawhirter, a consulting telecom engineer with LexisNexis.U.S. multinational companies, such as LexisNexis and Hearst, keep snapping up domain names, which are now available in more than 240 extensions. In total, more than 63 million domain names were registered as of March, according to VeriSign. Of those, 4.7 million were new names registered during the first quarter of 2004 - the highest quarterly figure in the history of the Internet.Managing domain names is going to get more difficult for companies later this year as their portfolios grow with the availability of new extensions, including .eu, which is sponsored by the European Union. Meanwhile, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is evaluating new sponsored top-level domains, including .asia, .jobs and .mail."Like most U.S.-based companies, we have a lot of .com names. But in our magazine space, we have quite a few brands spread out throughout the world," Rowlinson says. "The new extensions keep popping up, and we have to make an analysis of whether this is a country we want to market our products in.''One company that's seeking outside help to manage its 4,000 domain names is Turner Broadcasting System (TBS), another user of VeriSign's Digital Brand Management Services. TBS has a centralized management system for domain names that involves the company's legal and IT departments."We had one or two instances prior to having vendors help us with domain name management tools where a name expired for one reason or another," says Kari Moeller, domain name counsel for TBS. "We have had in the past someone get a whiff of a new program and buy a name first. But it hasn't been a huge problem, and I think our centralization is one of the reasons it hasn't been a huge problem."The Atlanta broadcasting company uses VeriSign's Web-based tools to handle domain name registrations and renewals. All the company's names - especially the valuable cnn.com - are renewed automatically. Moeller uses the software to keep contact information current, conduct audits and run regular reports."I can run reports to find out what's coming up for renewal or to figure out where we may have gaps in our portfolio," Moeller says. "The software allows us to be more efficient so domain name management takes less time."Moeller says having automated tools for domain name management will be even more important with the addition of .eu names and sponsored top-level domains."It's really important to have everything centralized. You need one group in charge with a database that can grow with you need and meet your needs," she says. "It's also important to have vendors that are knowledgeable about the domain name industry . . . and have good relationships with [other registries and registrars].''Moeller says services like Veri-Sign's are an important safety net for corporations with large and valuable domain name portfolios."Domain name portfolio management shouldn't be that difficult," Moeller adds. "But if something happens, it's a huge problem."