Internet

Registrars race to profit from longer domain names

With more Net name registrars coming online, the ability to register Net names up to 61 characters long could give entrepreneurs more sales revenue to fight over.

It did not take long for San Diego attorney Michael Eddy to jump into action when he learned that longer domain names are now for sale.

With most lucrative Net names already snapped up and resold at record prices in many cases--Business.com went for $7.5 million last month, for example--Eddy saw opportunity with the long domain names just as others have seized upon the value of shorter ones.

Until recently, most domain name registrars could only allow the registration of names up to 22 characters long. But now some are equipped to handle registrations of names that are 63 characters long, according to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit organization that oversees the Net's core technical functions. The name length applies to the word between the "www." and the ".com" in a Net address.

One night last week, Eddy, who is a patent and criminal lawyer, said he spent seven hours in front of his computer feverishly registering one long domain name after another for a Web business he plans to start someday soon. But Eddy also said he would resell a name if the price were right. He's not the only one who has discovered the new pot of available names, either.

"It was pandemonium," Eddy said. "I was getting a flurry of emails from people advising me on which names to register. I'd check to see if the names were available, and it would say that it was; then the next minute I'd find that somebody beat me to it. Things were happening that quickly."

In the time he spent tapping away at his computer, he registered about 200 new names for $60 each, including "Attorneyreferralservice.com" and "Hotelreservationservice.com." Someone beat him by mere minutes for "Workerscompensation.com."

With more Net name registrars coming online, the availability of the longer names could give them more sales revenue to fight over.

But the lengthier domain names also could boost so-called cybersquatting--the practice of registering scores of names, especially trademarks, and then selling them to the highest bidder. It's a practice both ICANN and Congress have been trying to curb with registration agreements and a new law that forbids the registration of domain names in "bad faith."

Representatives from domain name registrars Network Solutions (NSI) and NameSecure said they are in the process of updating their technology to sell registrations for the longer names. Register.com says it doesn't take long domains because Netscape's browser can't accommodate the extra characters. NSI's registry, which serves as the master database for all Net addresses, is able to record the longer names being sold by other registrars.

In the meantime, other, smaller registrars are enjoying a competitive advantage in handling the crush of new orders. Melbourne IT was the first to register lengthy domain names three weeks ago.

Businessman Sammy Afifi of San Diego soon followed. He said he took 1,500 registrations last week, four days after launching Verylongdomains.com, an affiliate to an ICANN-accredited registrar.

"Business is skyrocketing," Afifi said hurriedly, as if he were anxious to get back to work.

Eddy plans to park his domains until he's ready to launch an online referral service--unless, that is, he gets a good offer for them first, as he believes the longer names will be wildly popular in no time.

"It's a lot easier to remember three big words than 'e-dash-whatever,'" he said.

Bruce Keiser, president of iDirections.com, a domain name registrar in Los Gatos, Calif., says longer domains provide flexibility for individuals and small-business entrepreneurs. It also accommodates for foreign words and cultural organizations, which tend to have longer names.

"Everybody has gone through the dictionary and taken all the short words," he said. "The Internet is not as new as it once was. Brick-and-mortar businesses are looking for more of an online presence and may not want to change their brand names. The owner of something called Steve's Sport Shop, for example, will probably want to keep the same name online."

A few skeptics believe the longer names could turn out to be a flop.

Although Antony Van Couvering of New York's NameEngine acknowledges that there is a "terrific lack of available names for businesses," the longer names are not necessarily easier to remember and amount to "poor strategy," he said.

Van Couvering, Keiser and some other registrars are instead pressing ICANN to approve new domain endings so that users won't be limited to ".com," ".org" or ".net." ICANN plans to address that issue next year.

"It could open up a whole new territory," Keiser said.