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 IANA has since been replaced by ICANN (The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
- 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
- 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 email@example.com.