Posted by: nickgerlich | February 13, 2008

The Name Game

In the early days of the internet, registering a domain name was a fairly straightforward task. There was no worry about names and words getting gobbled up, or concerns about having your name hijacked by a porn site if you forgot to renew your name.

But that security quickly melted away when folks realized that the internet, unlike your local phone book, is international in scope. Furthermore, company names are often only registered in their county of operation, and sometimes at the state level. Rare indeed is the company whose name is a nationally-recognized trademark. Thus, you could have a Lone Star Bar & Grill in each of the 254 counties of Texas.

Yet only one could register http://www.LoneStarBarAndGrill.com.

Name GameOnce this was realized, a name-grab occurred little different from the mindset of the Gold Rush in California. And even though domain names can have up to 67 letters, it is now a foregone conclusion that all the “good names” are taken, reistered by existing companies, or hogged by domain squatters who think they may be able to sell the name to someone later for a tidy sum.

Sure, there are alternatives to the .com extension, such as .org and .net, or even .biz, .us, and .info, but these are weak cousins. A .com address is the default expectation; anything else, and you will forever be explaining to others where your domain really is.

Which leads us to the present: Virtually every word in the English language has been registered as a domain name. Many common strings of words have been registered. And in the MySpace era, now just about every http://www.my-whatever.com has been registered as well.

My oh my…who would have thought that “my” would become such a powerful prefix?

The result is that companies must be extremely crafty in devising their name. In fact, it is now more often the case that emerging companies check domain name availability before they ever christen the company. If it’s not available, then why bother?

We are thus left with a lot of strange names…yet somehow they have turned their naming disadvantage into their strength. How about Vonage? Zoho? Woot? You won’t find Oxford listing these words, yet they are memorable and have a certain marketing zing to them.

Even the venerable Google is worth mentioning, for theirs is really a misspelling (it should be googol, which is 10sup100). But then again, maybe Page and Brin were smart enough in the beginning to use a misspelling, because it is far easier to trademark a contrived word than one that appears in the dictionary.

Of course, the way things are going, it probably won’t be long before dictionaries start including “Google” as both a noun and verb.

So is it impossible to find a cool, memorable .com name? No. Will it be easy? No. If anything, the possibility of creating a new word is giving rise to a whole new generation of dotcom firms, places where creativity is honored, and rule-breaking is the only rule in place.

Now if I could just find time to exploit a domain name I have owned for over 10 years: http://www.theEway.com, a domain that has value perhaps only in Amarillo (since that is the nickname of I-27), but then again could be positioned as an e-commerce portal of some kind. I’ve staked my claim, but just don’t have time to mine it.

One of these days.

Dr “Name It, Claim It” Gerlich

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