Covet thy neighbour’s domain

    Covet thy neighbour’s domain

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    Greed and envy may be two of the seven deadly sins, but online, sinners are grinners. Robelen Bajar joins the digital gold rush.

    I’m a little peeved that someone else owns robelen.com. My birth certificate clearly shows I’ve had the name since birth. Even my business certificate proves I’ve been trading under that name since 2001. This makes me the rightful owner, doesn’t it?

    Well, not exactly. According to Whois, a central database of domain owners, robelen.com was secured in 2002 by a guy in the US who, apparently, could be earning a tidy sum through what is known as domain parking – a form of internet advertising which, in this case, aims to monetise web traffic of bathrobe lovers that happen upon the domain via direct type-in.

    OK, so he’s not exactly raking it in but I surmise that, like other domain parkers, he is keeping the name in the hope that I (or some unfortunate entrepreneur who thinks “Robelen” is the next “Bebo” or “Google”) will offer him a wad of cash for it. And, like most domain parkers, I have no doubt he maintains a healthy portfolio of good names. Just in case one comes up trumps.

    It was not so long ago that a software behemoth was booed by the internet fraternity for launching its ambitious digital entertainment store with a cool, funky name on a .net domain. It failed to register the .com, which at the time had been registered to one lucky punter who beat them to it twelve months earlier. While there are no media reports of money changing hands, rumours aside, I’d be surprised if the .com was not transferred for a sweet sum. It is now registered to said software behemoth as of January this year.

    The bad news (depending on where you stand): the practice is legal. Unlike the .com.au space, domain names are registered without restrictions in the free-for-all global domain name market (.com, .net, .org, .biz, .info). Such an open and unregulated environment naturally creates competition. Where two or more parties express interest in a domain, rules of the laissez-faire economy take over spurring the growth of the secondary domain market: a place where covetous domain name buyers bid on or negotiate a price to acquire their much-desired names from willing sellers.

    Don’t worry if you’re no creative genius, because the most sought after domain names in the secondary market are not the sort clever marketing folks conjure up (and forget to register). Popular, familiar generic names are the kinds that attract jaw-dropping price tags.

    Media reports abound of generic names like sex.com being sold for US$14 million in 2006, business.com for US$7.5 million in 1999 and, in March this year, pizza.com went under the hammer for a cool US$2.6 million. The highest non-dot-com sale is beauty.cc selling in 1999 for $1 million, while beauty.com sold in 2000 for US$800,000. For domain names closer to home, melbourne.com and perth.com sold recently in the US for US$700,000 and US$200,000 respectively.

    These days, registering a generic name in .com is like finding an undiscovered oasis in the Sahara. On the home front, however, it’s raining names. Good .com.au generic names are still up for grabs.

    But don’t get too excited just yet. Despite the ban lifting on the selling of .com.au domains effective 1 June, 2008, you cannot register a name for the sole purpose of resale the way people do in the global domain market. Eligibility rules still apply and domain names need to be in possession for at least six months before they can be sold.

    And while the ownership of .com.au can be disputed through costly and lengthy legal proceedings, the new policy change provides a possible avenue to obtain the domain you seek that the old regime did not offer: the opportunity to negotiate on price.

    Whether or not the conditions surrounding the sale of .com.au names will deter domain speculators is debatable. However, the impact to business owners, marketers and entrepreneurs is clear: protecting your business name, product name, brand name and trademark online is critical. Act now or you could very well pay the premium prices the secondary market commands for names you should have registered in the first place.

    And like many who covet their neighbour’s domain, I sit and wait for the day my .com domain becomes available once more. But you can bet I sleep better having already secured my domain, and variations of it, in .com.au.

    Robelen Bajar is Marketing Manager at Melbourne IT, which helps entrepreneurs start, grow and manage their businesses online.

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