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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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This story fails to consider the domain holder's point of view, and also rationalizes number of false statements.

Just because someone wants to buy a domain I or someone else owns, does not mean they have the right to do so, or even to bully us into doing so. We have lawsuits filed against us, UDRP cases filed against us, hackers trying to hack our passwords and DNS, and still we are called the cybersquatters.

A cybersquatter is someone who steals your TM, for instance NationalPublicRadio.org, then tries to sell it to you. A domain buyer/seller is someone who buys premium generic names like "TennisRacket.com" or "FrenchFries.com" and makes money off the type-in or referral traffic. There is no need for this person to sell, no requirement in the universe that would force him to sell and no foreseeable reason why he should.

If I buy a plot of land in Manhattan in 1910 and live to be 100 years old, what right do you have to take that land from me in 2010? Domain names are no different than land. And while a story like this might overlook many factors, perhaps the one you might consider most importantly is that every corporation in America is paying hundreds of thousands, and often millions, for the right generic keywords that are part of their business model. They simply don't tell you what they are doing or when they've done it.

Don't you have the right to buy your favorite domain? If so, sue every corporation in America which holds the rights to billions of dollars in domain assets that they don't even use.

Oh and those new .fad domains? They will be the hottest thing ever for about 730 days until renewal time comes along. Nothing but a nice fat wad of cash for ICANN, a supposedly non-profit organization.

Eventually the shine on the .dom extension will fade and other TDLs will rise in acceptance. It will take time, along with a growing disinclination to pay the substantial premium for a dot.com address, but that will happen once companies wise up to how people are really using URLs now.

Very few people reach sites via direct URL input nowadays. They're using search engines as a navigational waypoint. A recent study by Hitwise showed that 86% of searches are using a site name or brand name as the search term--meaning, the user already knows where he wants to go, but he's getting there via a search engine instead of a browser's address window.

While a prima facie dot-com name may elevate the perception of a brand (which may be a required tactic for some companies) it's not necessary for most startups. What you need now is a memorable brand name that's distinctive in your industry. Make a variation of your brand name in order to get the URL, i.e. "pieholeinc" or a generic term from your industry that relates to what you offer: "pieholepr.com", for example.

Brand your business with those two criteria in mind, and customers will find you.

@Mr. Lovelace: Not intending to be harsh but...bullocks. It's *your* responsibility to have a valid email address in the whois record for the domain. And to renew it in a timely fashion when you receive those numerous reminder emails from the registrar. That's how you avoid any subsequent reinstatement fees.

Further, if the domain is important to you then simply spend the sub-$100 to renew it for 10 years. Case closed.

One more thing; there's nothing inherently wrong with the drop catching system except for the issue of registrar hoarding (and that's a whole 'nother topic).

If private entities can buy the registration rights to their own domain TLD designations, then those will be held in, and controlled by, private hands. In other words, if Nikon buys .camera, it's only going to be used by Nikon, and Nikon won't be licensing it out for the whole world of photography to use likewise. Thus you wouldn't be seeing canon.camera, olympus.camera or sony.camera if Nikon owns the .camera tld.
If it's costly to register these pups (found a 2008 article proposing the idea at US$50,000 per) then they won't blow apart the Internet, as each will be strictly limited to use by solo entities. On the other hand, if they're as cheap as current registrations then it only opns up a whole new domain grab, ie: more chaotic plundering eventually ending up in the same constrictions of the current domain marketplace.
Other possibility is that solo entities register their TLDs, then sub-let or sell the extensions to others. In other words, I buy ".hamburger", then let macdonalds.hamburger, carlsjr.hamburger and burgerking.hamburger exist in my space for a steep fee. If that happens, then you've REALLY have fractured and extortionate private control of the internet domain name space.

Cash Peters – you have a bedroom and computer that you are not using. According to your logic, this gives me permission to permanently take both, sans compensation.

So the guy who started Flickr was too slow, too unimaginative and too lazy to register a suitable domain when they were available? And I should feel sorry for him?

And the owner of Flicker.com should be forced to compensate for this laziness and stupidity?

Speaking of lazy, why wasn’t someone who knows about the industry (from an industry perspective) interviewed?

This does nothing about more dangerous corrupt practices: grabbing a domain where the renewal didn't go through in time and demanding a premium to give it back, and watching the requests to see whether anyone owns a particular domain in preparation for registering it and then grabbing it themselves.

Among all these comments, no one mentioned the factual error. None of this is about "cybersquatting".

Flicker.com is a generic name. Flickr.com is a marketing (and presumably) trademarked name.
Verizon is too.
However, Verison.com is the instance of cybersquatting.

So the issue is about perfectly legal (and purely capitalistic) domaining, not cybersquatting.

And cybersquatted names are routinely transferred to the trademark holder via the UDRP process. As a matter of fact, the cards are stacked against the domain holder as many egregious examples of reverse hijacking exist. That's where, say, Anheuser-Busch would like a valuable generic like beer.com and tries to get it through UDRP. Sometimes it actually succeeds.

It's an interesting industry and I'd urge the reporters to research the topic in more depth before presenting any more stories about it.

A good starting point is "domaining.com". See what I did there? ;)

You do a disservice to your readers broadcasting a story so full on inaccuracies.

1. There are already a surfeit of alternative extensions. Dot-biz is one. But as mentioned no-one wants a dot-biz.

2. Dot-com domains are beachfront property on the internet. That is why savvy businesspeople are paying millions of dollars for undeveloped dot-com domains, such as the recent $5.8 million sale of slots.com, when alternative made-up domains, such as LuckyRabbitSlots.com are unregistered and available for $10. ICANN is creating more land in the middle of the desert, which doesn't make beachfront land less valuable.

3. The purpose of a domain name is to be memorable. Otherwise we would still be using strings of IP numbers to reach websites. A domain like beer.com that is based on the word for the product already familiar to people because it is in everyday use, combined with the familiar dot-com extension that has been supported by hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising dollars so that it is synonymous in most people's minds with the Internet, has clear value. That value will not be dissipated by adding yet another extension to the long list of underutilized extensions, such as .pro, .biz, .mobi, .cc, .ws. etc.

4. ICANN is doing a miserable job of carrying out their core mandate - protecting the interests of the Internet public. They capitulated to Verisign and allowed them a perpetual monopoly on the dot-com extension, which costs the public hundreds of millions of dollars in excess fees inflated by monopoly profits. ICANN is funded with tens of millions of dollars in fees on domain registrations, of which they are spending millions to foist unnecessary alternative extensions on the public. You neglect to report in your piece that ICANN is charging hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for each new extension.

You'll do your listeners a service if next time you report on this issue, you move beyond the cheap, easy shot, do some research, and provide your readers an understanding of why there is such value in generic dot-com domains.

A Greedy Opportunist

How a new system for tollfree 800#'s?

Hi, Investing in domains is just like investing in anything else. Nothing Wrong with it. I own over 1k "generic domain names" myself. BTW: THESE ARE ALREADY COMING ~ COST $118.000 "Quote Oh yeah, don't tell me that Kraft wouldn't give a kidney to own .food, or Microsoft to own .PC, or Apple to own .apple. Talk about marketing heaven! Just as .com came into vogue, so too will it be replaced by something new."End Quote The Greatest two Domain Investors: Quote: "Frank Schilling wants you to buy the right domains and change your business destiny.. Yup, that�s right� But wait, he is not the only one...Kevin Ham does too! Between the two of them, they own well over 800,000 top keyword domains, modestly valued at a minimum $500 million today easily and maybe even as high as $1 billion� Depends who you ask ;) " ______ Peace, Dan

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