When it comes to branding an online property, one of the first things you should consider in the process of naming an entity is the availability of a possible domain name.
Like good real estate, the neighborhood and address you land at can help your online property thrive.
But good real estate gets speculated quickly, and with a finite number of memorable and catchy domain names available in the top-level .com domain spectrum, many brands are looking to international domains as an additional resource.
In the 90s, before the boom of web businesses, domain names came cheaply because market demand was low. Domains still cost as little as $9.95 to register. But because companies have moved quickly into the neighborhood, valuable online real estate is limited. Now, the market is controlled by individuals and companies that invested early, out of speculation opportunities or simply because they got there first.
Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist with Union Square Ventures who has funded a number of recognizable online startup companies, says that a short, quality domain should be highly coorelated with investment:
In line with our own plans for growth, Technically Media recently acquired Technical.ly, a top-level Libyan domain, a decision that did not come lightly. After the jump, some lessons in that decision-making process.
What is your brand?
For the past three years, we’ve operated Technically Philly, a local news organization focused on technology in the Philadelphia region. We own TechnicallyPhilly.com, TPhilly.com, and a handful of variable domain names that encompass the name of that brand.
Should we grow outside of the Philadelphia region, and taking that inevitability into account, we decided that a national brand name was necessary.
Two options became apparent: develop a new national brand name or take advantage of what we already had going. Quite frankly, the availability of domain names helped us shape that decision. None of the dozens of names that we developed were available as a .com, which should be a first choice for most businessesâ€”it’s the most recognizable domain on the web internationally.
Having done a great job branding the Technically name both through our local tech news product and our parent company Technically Media, it made sense to take advantage of that effort. We decided to seek domain opportunities relevant to that name, and found one in Libya’s .ly domain.
Should you make an investment in a domain outside your country?
With the .com crunch evident, there are dozens of top-level domain names worth exploring. Many are sold through U.S. registrars, like Network Solutions: co, .de, .asia, and the new, controversial .xxx, as examples. International names are harder to come by because those countries often hope to keep the registration of their domains local: .me (Montenegro) and .ly (Libya) being a great examples. With those, expect to purchase from registrars that require some extra research for reassurance.
We found that you should ask why you shouldn’t invest in a domain outside your country. If it makes sense for your brand, it’s certainly worth exploring.
Who benefits from the sale of those domains?
In the U.S., companies like Network Solutions, GoDaddy and Dreamhost sell domain registrations, and they are overseen by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Libyan domain names have an extra layer: they are registered by several accredited for-profit businesses that are overseen by Libya’s national registry NIC.LY , which was given permission to accredit those for-profit registrars by ICANN.
Who is accountable?
In our research, we were certainly worried about a case of NIC.LY seizing at least one .ly domain; in that case, vb.ly, a URL shortener that catered to sexually explicit content (though clearly educational in nature), was found to be in violation of NIC.LY’s Terms of Service. An official at ICANN confirmed to us that NIC.LY is completely responsible for oversight of its domains and that no appeals process is available through the international agency. That’s unfortunate considering the situation at vb.ly, but we decided that since we won’t be sharing explicit content, we felt comfortable with the registry.
What have others experienced?
We wanted to understand who had purchased .ly domains in the past and from which registrar they had purchased them. We landed at several well-known entities that had purchased .ly domains, like the URL shortener bit.ly (which, in fairness, has since registered bitly.com) and Active.ly, a small startup based in Seattle. The latter, at least, had acquired a domain from Libyan Spider, a broker and registrar founded and run by Hadi Naser, based in Tripoli, Libya. With several identifiable western-market domain transactions, including a $100,000 acquisition reported by TechCrunch, Naser’s Libyan Spider seemed like a best fit. And Active.ly’s founders confirmed that experiences with Naser had been professional and enjoyable. Our experience so far has been the same.
What if that domain opportunity is in a politically volatile country?
We continue to worry about the future of Libya’s political strife, but with Arab Spring contributing to the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, democratic elections taking place, and the added oversight of ICANN, should strife result in unexpected consequences, we are as confident as we can be that our domain will remain ours.
We couldn’t be more excited about the new domain name. For now, we’re redirecting Technical.ly to TechnicallyPhilly.com, but it will eventually become its own entity. It’s opened up a ton of possibilities for us, and the punchy name feels just right.