Archive for March 1st, 2011

March 1, 2011

What’s in a name?

I recently came across an article on the internet claiming that .co’s were going to be the next big thing for domain names. The argument is the .co is close to .com, and looks like it’s short for “company”, even though .co is a country code top level domain (ccTLD) for Republic of Colombia. The top level domain .co’s aren’t new (although the ease of registering them is), and neither is the logic. The same statement was rehashed for .biz’s, the .us’s, the .cc’s and the .ws’s (some claim .ws is meant to be “website”, but it too is a ccTLD, for Western Samoa), and will be repeated as new TLDs are created. The argument is simple: we’re running out of good .com domain names, so surely some other extension must become popular. Yes, it’s true that thousands of domains are registered a day, the lion’s share are still the .coms

As I see it, there is one critical flaw in the argument to register non-dot coms: for companies, it’s all about brand. No company wants their brand to be confused with someone else’s – unless they can profit from it, of course. Go ahead, I challenge you to come up with a domain name which has been registered with two different top level domains, and belong to different successful companies. I’ll even let you define successful.

Sure there are some examples of famous companies with non-dot com names. The most famous example is probably del.ico.us. But if you notice, del.icio.us now forwards to delicious.com. Once del.ico.us had enough equity, they purchased the .com. I recently discovered binged.it, which is also very clever and also redirects to bing.com. The fact that del.ico.us is the defacto non-dot com example used also shows how hard it is to come up with a creative non-dot com name. Wikipedia, slashdot and others use .org, but they also have the .com registered, and can redirect traffic to their .org as need be.

But don’t take my word for it that dot coms aren’t going anywhere, let’s look at some numbers.

The percentage of newly registered domains that were dot-coms only slightly decreased from 67.7% in 2008 to 65.0% in 2010.   This number accounts for new registrations, and does not including existing registrations which are already dominated by .coms.  To reach this conclusion, I used HosterStats from 2008 and HosterStats from 2010. The top level domains .us and .co as were not available to this particular register in 2008 and .me, .asia was not available in all of 2008. Often individuals and companies buy “add-on” domains to prevent anyone else from owning them. As new top level domains come online, we expect a bump in registration the first month it is available. We didn’t want this “Add-on” bump to affect out analysis, so we removed .co’s, .us’s, .me’s and .asia from analysis. Simply put, over half of newly registered domains are .coms.

Even accounting for add-on bump, the popularity of .co’s is less than random. Using the August to November statistics from 2010 HolsterStats, the percentage of domain registrations in August, September and November are .co’s are 4.5%. The registrar has 19 different top level domains. A randomly selected top level domains is 5.3% likely to be .co. Thus, when users have a choice, they prefer .co’s less than a user who selects a top level domain purely at random. There is not a strong preference for .co’s.

On the other hand – of the other domains, .Info is growing in popularity. While there are fewer .info’s than .net or .orgs, newly registered domain name are almost as likely to be .info than .net and .org, combined. We see this to be true in DomainTools. According to HolsterStats, domains with .info made up less than 1% of all domains registered in 2008, but 14.1% in 2010. This finding has peaked my interest since .info’s have been around since 2001 and were always easy to register. Why then are they now becoming popular?  Is this localized to DomainTools and HolsterStats, or a more global phenomenon? Of course, in terms of raw numbers, .net and .org are still more popular than .info.

Do does this mean every single new domain should be a dot com? Clearly not. There are a number of successfully branded non-dot com examples, and .infos seem to be raising in popularity. But dot coms are still the option that is strongly preferred by the internet community. It still seems to be the de facto standard.