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Domain carpetbaggers

October 2002

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  Giancarlo Livraghi
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Two years ago I wrote in this column about “the domain hustle”. It’s getting worse. There are more oddities – increasingly complicated and often ridiculous. Internet domain merchants seem desperate. In the growing (and unbearable) flood of spam there are domain offers for 14 or 11 dollars.

The new “top level domains” were seen as an urgent need and a great innovation. So far they are remarkably unsuccessful. From a recent update of the worldwide domain survey we learn that there are 8,000 internet hosts on .biz domains and 5,600 on .info (as compared to a total of 162 million hosts – of which, for instance, 43,800,000 are .com, 56,600,, 7,400,000 .edu, etcetera.)  For the other "new" TLDs the numbers are tiny: just over 100 .name and .coop (less than ten .aero, .museum and .pro.)

No great number of companies (or other organizations) have registered domains in the new categories. And even fewer are using them.

It isn’t easy to estimate how much money has been wasted on the “new TLD” adventure (two hundred were submitted, seven approved) but it adds up to several million dollars.

Irrelevant? Yes. But not for lawyers and corporate legal departments. Furious battles have been fought over domains that nobody really wanted. With bizarre consequences, including conflicting decisions – while a law court decides one way, some arbitration body takes an opposite view, the issue remains in mid air and everyone is disappointed.

There are weird “case histories”. Here’s one example. A company called Ada Inc. registers the domain. But there is a claim by Wanna Inc. that owns a product called “Ada” and fears that Ada Inc. will use that name to sell gadgets. The implication is quite ridiculous, because any such activity would be incompatible with the nature of the Ada company (and in the unlikely case that it intended any such exploitation it could easily to so with one of the ada-dot-something domains that it has been using for years and were never claimed by Wanna or anyone else). At the end of an exhausting procedure and lots of fuss – neither of the contenders obtains the domain, which remains “temporarily” parked with a supplier, who (prompted by Wanna’s hysterical fears) sets up a small and unsuccessful online shop selling “Ada” gadgets. Several other cases are just as stupid as this, if not worse.

Disclaimer: this is a true story, but the names are imaginary. Anything or anyone, anywhere, actually called Ada or Wanna has nothing to do with this case.

On the other hand, some companies, sometimes, aren’t as careful as they should. A sound and reliable organization (quite experienced in the use of the internet) absentmindedly allowed one of its domains to expire. It was “squatted” by a merchant of sexually explicit materials.

In their desperate search for something to sell, some spammers came up with the idea of offering .us domains to the Chinese. It don’t work, so they tried to sell them in other countries around the world. Again, they failed. There are nearly 1.9 million internet hosts on .us domains, but the number hasn’t increased after they were offered outside the United States.

Other attemps based on the idea of using existing TLDs to convey a “meaning” aren’t very successful. For instance 7,800 hosts on .tv are many for Tuvalu, a tiny archipelago in the Pacific, but few for television stations around the world. There are 5,300 hosts on .ws (Samoa) that maybe someone uses to mean “website”. A larger number (but small for “global” use) is 20,000 on .to (Tonga). Other attempts to sell “geographic” TLDs to mean something else are total falures. There are 670 hosts on .fm (Micronesia – but could it fit a radio station?) 129 on .cd (Congo – but someone thought it could mean “compact disk”) 59 on .sr (Suriname – or could it mean “senior”?)  Etcetera...

In a few cases, someone may have made a profit. Selling thousands of Tuvalu domains to broadcasters or television services could have generated over a hundred thousand dollars of income (for a broker in the United States.)  But such isolated episodes are irrelevant in the general picture.

Of course it’s reasonable to protect well-known names from unwanted parasites. But otherwise most of the fuss on domain names is a waste of time. Having a “meaningful” domain name may, perhaps, help a bit for a startup. But does it really matter? If one competitor has a name that fits his intention, while another hasn’t, but offers better content and service – guess who is the winner? One example is enough. Amazon doesn’t sound like a bookstore (and there is no .books TLD, though it was submitted).

There is a monumental waste of time and energy (not only in the internet) on all sorts of marginal or irrelevant issues. It pays to concentrate on what really matters: quality, care, relations and service.


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