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Biz model for domain names to change

The home page of the photo-sharing website Flickr.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Ever wonder why the address for the photo-sharing website Flickr doesn't have an E in it? It's because -- and this is a true story -- the founder liked the name "flicker" -- E, R -- but couldn't negotiate the rights to it. The guy who had it wouldn't sell. So, she improvised and came up with the next best thing. Cyber-squatting, as it's known, has led to a whole spate of oddly-spelled company names and web addresses.

But Cash Peters found out the practice of hoarding available domain names may soon become a broken business model.


Cash Peters: Choosing a domain name is such a drag. No matter what name you think of, it's already taken.

David Sarno's the tech reporter for the L.A. Times.

David Sarno: If you wanted to go start a beer company, say, forget trying to get Beer.com. Somebody probably got that 20 years ago. And then you'd try every combination of "beer" that you can think of and all those combinations are taken, too. So what you're left with is people trying to figure out a nonsense word that nobody has the rights to, and naming their company after that.

Precisely. I hope you're listening, Grrrrrrrrrr.com. A lot of times the domain isn't even in use. Some greedy opportunist is just sitting on it, waiting for you to buy it from him at an inflated price. It's sneaky and outrageous. Or, to put it another way, capitalism. Because a good domain name is vital part of your brand, though, this is a real problem.

As it happens, I keep branding expert John Tantillo right here on speed dial.

John Tantillo: It's gotta be easy to pronounce, it should be distinctive, it should be able to be translated into a different language. And it should be trademark-able.

He's right -- like IKEA.com or AOL.com. Don't go calling yourself something nobody can spell, like Wachovia for instance, or Husqvarna. Also, if you can't get your first choice, John says, be prepared to compromise.

Tantillo: You might not get the dot-com name, but you might get the dot-biz name.

Peters: Yeah, but it's so uncool. Nobody wants something dot-biz.

Tantillo: Coolness is relative and it's temporal. You can't worry about coolness, what you've got to worry about is marketing!

Actually, in his case, I'd be more worried about having a stroke. So OK, I have an idea: Why doesn't someone got off their backside and fix this? Ya know, just thinking out loud. Well, thankfully they're about to. Seems there are two ways to do it. Number one, replace this elaborate code we call a domain name with a simple search, like speed dial. David Sarno.

Sarno: I don't know any of my best friends' phone numbers. That era is gone where you had to remember phone numbers. Now, you just pick out your phone and click on their name. So, it should be a similar thing with businesses and entities of all kinds, where all I have to do is remember your name, and I've searched for your name online and it takes me to your website.

But there's a second way to fix this mess: Extend the number of top level domain names -- from your basic dot-coms and dot-orgs -- by adding tons more.

Doug Brent is COO of ICANN, the Internet... Corporation of... Anyway, they oversee domain names.

Doug Brent: In the physical world, when you have beach-front real estate, there just is that limit. There's going to be competition for the beach. It doesn't have to be that way in domain names.

Over the next year -- perhaps longer, but maybe in that time frame -- basically, anyone could apply for a top-level domain name. So instead of dot-com, it can be dot-my-brand or dot-my-community, like the dot-Inuit community. Or perhaps dot-Facebook. The feeling that all the good names are taken doesn't have to be true anymore.

Great. But uh-oh, wait. If you add these new names, what happens to all those greedy opportunists who basically registered the entire thesaurus to make a fast buck? I do hope they'll be OK and don't lose all their money.

Tantillo and Peters laughing

I don't know why that's funny, it just is. But really, they're in for a shock.

Sarno: You're going to have a whole lot of people who have paid a whole lot of money for codes that don't mean anything anymore. And it's going to be replaced, and everybody that paid money for a piece of that system is going to be out of luck.

Oh, darn. In short, the whole system's about to become freer and simpler. In the meantime, though, I guess you grab any name you can. Shame that Grrrrrrrrr.com is taken, really.

Tantillo: As Frank Sinatra used to say, "That's life."

In LAcity.org, I'm CashPeters.com for Marketplace.org.

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