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Reality Check
April 2000

Robert Vahid Hashemian


Who Wants To Be A Domain Millionaire?


business.com: $7.5 million, loans.com: $3 million, wine.com: $1 million, cars.com $1 million. Welcome to the age of a new kind of "what-if" scenario. Most of us regret some inaction in our past. What if you had acted on that certain business idea? What if you had bought $2,000 worth of Microsoft stock back in '86? (You'd be a millionaire today.) And what if you could go back just several years and register those great domain names you missed out on?

Back in 1993, Network Solutions, Inc., (a.k.a. Internic) under a contract by the National Science Foundation (NSF) began accepting domain name registrations for the US-based top level domain names, .com, .net, .org, and .edu. Another government contractor -- IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) -- was responsible for the overall system used to assign names and IP numbers worldwide. IANA has since been replaced by ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), and Network Solutions is no longer the only game in town for registering domain names -- there are over 100 registration services to choose from.

Up until 1995 registering domain names was a snap. Submit a request to Internic and you'd be home free. Literally. There was no annual fee for owning domain names -- you still needed an ISP to park your domain with. Soon many companies, recognizing the potential of the Internet, began to register their names, and the .com top-level domain (TLD) became the most popular of them all.

When browsers hit the market in 1994 (remember Mosaic?) all hell broke loose. Early on, many browsers were programmed to default to a .com TLD if the user did not specify the full address. So, just typing "netscape" in the address field would send you to netscape.com. This helped fuel the fire behind .com domains but when people realized the potential market for generic domain names, the domain name industry (especially the .com) experienced its real explosion. Many of the early registrants of generic domain names did so in the hopes of opening up online businesses relating to those names, only to find out that the names themselves would be worth more than the potential businesses they were hoping to start up.

By some accounts, over 98 percent of the English words in Webster's dictionary have been registered as .com domain names. Many have also been registered as .net and .org, but these are still not as hot as .com domain names. Moreover, many generic words have been prepended with 'e' (for electronic) or 'i'for Internet) and registered as domain names as well (e.g., ebusiness.com, ecommerce.com, icommerce.com, etc.). Also gone are 1-, 2-, 3-, and most 4-letter word permutations.

But who's to blame for all this madness? Most put the blame squarely on those who have registered the names only in the hopes of selling them to other businesses at large profits. This new class of online entrepreneurs/extortionists, known as cybersquatters, strive to acquire as many domain names as they can and then sell them to the highest bidder. (By the way, don't bother looking up cybersquatter.com, it's taken.)

So what is a business to do when all the best names are gone? Here are some suggestions:

  • Permutate -- If you can't find the exact domain name you are looking for, try other forms of it. For example, speed-call.com could be an acceptable substitute for speedcall.com.
  • Sue -- If you have a trademark on a name, which has been registered by someone else, you may have a chance to take it away from them legally. It all depends on the strength of your legal case. Of course, this is more difficult for generic names.
  • Buy -- You may decide that paying someone for a domain name is just part of the cost of doing business and is worth the price. The names I mentioned at the top of this column fall under this category. Many companies have also sprung up to support the domain name-buying craze in an auction format. Take a look around the popular auction sites ebay.com, ubid.com, or amazon.com. Or, you can try some of the newcomers in the field of domain name auctions such as afternic.com or greatdomains.com.
  • Ambush -- Wait for a company to forget to pay their annual fee on their domain name and grab the name. Okay, this is unethical but it happened to Microsoft just a couple of months ago when they neglected to pay the fee for passport.com. The domain name was eventually returned to Microsoft. Let that be a lesson to us all.
  • Forget .com -- Sure, a .com name is still the most desirable, but the equivalent .net or .org names may still be available and can do the job just as well as a .com moniker.
  • Go offshore -- Many countries, assigned TLDs of their own, have gone into the business of selling domain names. Using their embassies in the U.S. (which are technically their soil) as a base for their operations, many still have good domain names available. These countries include the kingdom of Tonga (.to), Cocos Island (.cc), and Tuvalu (.tv), among others. So you could end up with the URL www.mycompany.cc.
  • Extend to 63 -- Once limited to 22 characters, many domain registrars now accept up to 63 characters, so you can theoretically register Who WantsToBeADomainMillionaireAndNeverWorkAgainInYourLife.com.
  • Wait -- ICANN is working on new TLDs such as .firm, .biz, and .shop in the hopes of easing the glut in the current system. So we may soon see these fresh TLDs. Just beware of the ensuing stampede if and when they are released.

The problem with all these suggestions is that they still don't get you the most coveted domain names such as business.com, money.com, or go.com. but perhaps the day when simple.com domain names will lose their distinction is nearer than you think. With voice recognition technology becoming more efficient and its usage becoming ever more prevalent, we may soon use our voice to browse instead of pounding on a keyboard. And in that case, having a .com address may not be as significant as it is today. It may just get replaced by another way of reaching a company's site, for example, typing in http://3504848279 to get to the tmcnet.com Web site.

What do you think of the domain name craze? Let me know. 

Robert Vahid Hashemian provides us with a healthy dose of reality each month in his Reality Check column. Robert currently holds the position of Director for TMCnet.com -- your online resource for CTI, Internet telephony, and call center solutions. He can be reached at rhashemian@tmcnet.com.

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