Unlocking door to new net names

 

The appearance of a new domain is being touted as the new .com, but with plenty of name availability, writes Karlin Lillington

IF YOU have ever tried to get a .com domain name on the internet and (probably) found the name was long, long, long gone, then you will understand the global interest in the availability of a new(ish) top-level domain, .co.

The domain – which is actually the country domain for Colombia, but is being promoted as a generic top level domain, like .com, .net or .org – is being touted as the new .com, but with plenty of name availability.

Consider the numbers: more than 85 million .com names were registered as of the end of last year and common terms and names vanished aeons ago, with commercially desirable domain names now changing hands sometimes for hundreds of thousands, even millions, of euros.

The memorable domains shortage is acute. A few years ago, it was announced that all remaining three-letter .com domains were gone. In recent years, many new companies, especially web-based technology start-ups where the URL is all-important, have taken to choosing the company name based on available domain names rather than the other way around.

With .co, the sale of 350,000 domains in its first weeks has been considered an excellent start. But that still leaves millions and millions of available names, including common words, memorable names and the much-desired three-letter acronyms.

According to Juan Diego Calle, chief executive officer of .CO Internet, the Colombian managing company for the .co domain, “the launch of the .co domain represents the next phase in the growth and development” of the internet.

“The .co domain will create new opportunities in global commerce, content development, social media and other forms of interactivity, which will enrich the overall internet experience for everyone,” he said in a statement.

Some companies are already convinced – large organisations from Twitter to Overstock. com snapped up a .co when the market opened up last month. Social media site Twitter says it will use T.co as the URL for its own URL-shortening service (similar to the function provided by Tinyurl.com and Bit.ly).

Overstock.com paid $350,000 for O.co, which it says will be a short and sharp, easily memorable URL for its customers, while the E.co domain was auctioned for $81,000 (donated to charity) to help raise .co brand awareness.

Others will probably wait and see whether the domain takes off, says Michele Neylon, chief executive of Irish web-hosting company Blacknight.com, which is also the Irish registrar for .co domains. Blacknight has seen good interest in the domain but, he notes, “any domain lives or dies through usage”.

Initial sales of domains don’t always equal success – at least immediately.

The European .eu domain has been slow to gain traction, with initial purchasers often buying to “cybersquat” – to wait for someone to pay them a significant sum for the .eu version of their company or personal domain they failed to buy themselves – or to own and park their domain’s .eu version, not using it as an active site. Neylon, who is co-chair of the .eu registrar advisory board, says this meant .eu initially was not a very active or lively domain.

That has begun to change, though, with .eu now making up a significant 15 per cent of all domain sales for large international domain registrars Tucows and SEDO.

The .co domain management has learned from problems faced by other domains at launch, Neylon adds, carefully managing the initial launch and, as far as possible, trying to limit cybersquatting (although reportedly, domain name “land-grabbing” was a major driver of international purchases at launch).

They have also tried to discourage so-called typo-squatters, individuals who buy domains that are a letter or two away from popular web destinations and use the site to earn money from advertisements. Arguably, the management company also hasn’t overhyped the domain’s launch – which may be good or bad.

A casual survey of Irish companies and individuals revealed many were unaware that .co had even been launched. On the other hand, good management and proper but controlled promotion is now seen as critical for a top-level domain launch, after initially hyped domains such as .pro and .travel have failed to take off with their targeted markets.

How then can a country level domain end up being promoted and used as a more generic, top-level domain? There’s already a history with country domains such as .tv – belonging to Tuvalu but handy for television-related URLs. In the case of .co, some in Colombia recognised its commercial potential a decade or so ago.

The domain was initially under the control of one of the nation’s universities, Universidad de los Andes, which wanted to promote it as a .com alternative. However, the Colombian government refused permission, claiming the .co domain was a “public resource”, and the university eventually gave up its administrative role for the domain.

Eventually, the new .CO Internet entity was allowed to commercialise .co, and .CO Internet began selling .co domains in June in a closed sale to Colombian companies, eventually moving to public and international availability in late July.

With .co domains selling for about €30 each – and .coms for under €10 – the domains are at least for now, priced at a premium. It will have been given a boost last month by Google, which said it would give .co domains a higher priority in rankings than it normally would give country level domains – as long as the content is globally targeted.

So, should Irish companies go .co?

“I think there’s an opportunity there for Irish companies to use a .co,” says Dublin-based digital marketing and brands consultant Krishna De, “particularly if you’re a large brand, I’d make sure you have the .co.

“But the opportunity is also there for Irish companies that might not have been able to get a shorter, easy-to-remember domain name or their company name as a .ie or .com.”

HAPPY ENDINGS? A LIST OF SOME COMMON TOP-LEVEL DOMAINS

.comCommercial and open: any person, organisation or entity can register a .com. Most popular top level domain in the world.

.bizBusiness and open: anyone can register but can be challenged by a business with a claim to the name.

.eduEducational: limited to post-secondary institutions.

.govGovernmental: limited to government entities and agencies in the United States.

.mobiMobile devices: has to be used with a mobile compatible site.

.net; .orgNetwork; organisation and open: anyone can register.

.proProfessions: limited to certified doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers in the US, UK, France and Canada.

.eu; .ieEurope; Ireland: Examples of country-level domains with some registration restrictions.

.coCommercial: Colombia’s country-level domain, but now being offered as an alternative to .com