Thousands of domain names are registered every day, but only a few go on to become legends. Gail Robinson reports on 10 classic Web names and shows how you can make a piece of Net history yourself.
The most valuable domain name in the world has to be Sex.com - it's rumoured to make over $100 million a year. Easy to remember, one-word domain names have become valuable property, and online auction houses run domain name sales daily. Some of the names never even reach the price they cost to register, but others, such as Drugs.com, sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Make no mistake,.com domains are the most valuable to own. There are around 10 million registered domain names, and over six million of these are .com domains. A poor second is .net, with around one million domains registered. Rick Schwartz, president of Domainseller.com -- a company that specialises in buying attractive domain names -- says buying a .net name is "like spitting in the wind". And because all the best.com names have already gone, it's a big event when a good .com domain comes up for sale.
The bad news is that almost every three-letter domain name combination has been registered, along with most of the four-letter ones. An enterprising band of students -- all members of the London computer club Pictureweb -- attempted to register 75,000 of the remaining four-letter domain names earlier this year. Unsurprisingly, the students didn't have the cash needed to buy the names, so they had to hand them back.Time is definitely running out for aspiring domain name speculators.
We've looked at 10 of the best domain names in the world -- and you'll be kicking yourself when you realise you could be swimming in money if only you'd bought the name first. There are some bizarre, behind the scenes shenanigans to report as well.
The Sex.com Web site has become a $100 million a year business. The owners of the site claim it has over nine million members, all of whom pay a monthly registration fee of $25 (around [pounds]16). Allegedly, it costs $1 million to place a banner ad on the site for a month. Stephen Cohen is the man behind the site, and he's now a multi-millionaire. "There's only one word in the whole world that everyone understands -- sex. Type in the word `sex' and you come to Sex.com," says Cohen. A recent Sex.com press release said:
"Sex.com does 86 per cent of the sex-related business on the Web. We make more than Penthouse, Hustler, Playboy and all the other major sex Web sites combined".
The story behind the registration of the domain name Sex.com is more bizarre than some of the sex scenes you'll find on the site. In May 1994, Stanford Business School graduate Gary Kremen registered the domain name Sex.Com. A year later, Kremen claim she "woke up one morning to find it [Sex.com] was gone". Kremen alleges that Cohen forged a letter to the domain name registrars, Network Solutions, authorising the transfer of the domain name Sex.com to his own name. Cohen has already been imprisoned for impersonating a lawyer. He took control of the domain in 1995, soon after he was released from prison. He claimed he'd used the Sex.com name in 1979 for his swinger's bulletin board, and argues that Sex.com stood for Sex Communications before the potential of the Internet was recognised.
The Sex.com domain name is now listed as being held by Ocean Fund (a British Virgin Island based company), which Cohen says is owned by a publicly traded foreign bank. Ocean Fund hit the headlines when it bid $3.6 billion in cash for Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. But many in the industry think this was no more than one of Cohen's publicity stunts. Meanwhile, Kremen is suing both Cohen and domain name registrars Network Solutions. His case should be heard next year. Ocean Fund is currently filing for the copyright and trademark rights to Sex.com, and you can be sure Kremen will be fighting the company all the way.
Tony Hseih and Alfred Lin made it rich when they sold their lucrative Link Exchange business to Microsoft for $250 million in 1998. They're also the investors behind the recent $823,456 purchase of the domain Drugs.com. The guys now run Venture Frogs (at www.vfrogs.com), a company that helps Internet start-ups. Apparently, US domain name speculator Rick Scwhatz put in a slightly higher bid for the Drug.com name, but it arrived two minutes after the auction had closed. Hseih said the company would have been prepared to pay even more.
The plans for Drugs.com are still in the prototype stage. "We're planning on building some sort of a drug and pharmacy portal that'll link to online pharmacies and sources of information," says Hseih. "You can take a look at the site (www.drugs.com) to get an idea of the general direction we're heading in."
So who had the foresight to register this valuable domain name in the first place? The original owner was Bonnie Neubeck, a Minnesota businesswoman who registered the domain back in 1994. She spotted the value of electronic commerce early. Eric MacIver, an entrepreneur from Arizona, who planned to set up a pharmaceutical distribution Web site, bought an option on the domain name in May 1999. It's not known how much MacIver paid for the domain, but he was expecting more from the auction -- "We were hoping for over a million," he said.
Internet.com has got to be the grand-daddy of cool domain names. The Internet media company Mecklermedia bought the name in 1997 for $100,000, which sounds like a bit of a bargain now. At the time, Mecklermedia owned Internet magazines, as well as the Internet World show, and the domain name purchase was a "loud statement that we are the Internet media company". The plan was to turn Internet.com into a huge portal site for Internet professionals. Mecklermedia was sold to Penton Media in 1998, but Internet.com remains under the control of Alan Meckler, and is an impressive portal site.
The company who sold the Internet.com domain name was The Internet Company in Massachusetts. At the time, the company also owned a clutch of other valuable domain names, including wealth.com, magazine.com and finance.com.
The domain name Wallstreet.com was sold for a staggering $1.03 million in April 1999. Ehud Gavron is the lucky man that sold the name, which his Arizona-based ISP company had registered in 1994. Gavron had been patient -- he'd already turned down a $250,000 offer for the name from a porn site specialist (www.wallstreetsex.com is already live). Gavron plans to fix his kitchen and build a Jacuzzi in his back yard with his share of the profits.
The broker New Commerce Communications handled the sale, with the bidding starting at $300,000, and rapidly rising over seven figures. The domain name was sold to the online casino Players Sportsbook and Casino, which is based on a tiny island near venezuela. The Wallstreet.com site is a mix of online gambling and stock market speculation. The owners of the site are now listed as Global Internet Online, an online gaming management company based in St Kitts in the Caribbean. Strangely, there's no capital gains tax in St Kitts, so Global Internet is not obliged to report any financial information to its customers or to any government institution.
Don't waltz along to this site expecting to get the latest presidential address from Bill Clinton. If you're after government policy, go to www.whitehouse.gov. Whitehouse.com is home to a porn site and, as the opening page helpfully explains, "We are not affiliated or endorsed by the US Government".
Dan Parisi runs the site, and during his time in the industry, he's had a few scrapes with some important people. The White House sent him a stern letter in 1997, when Parisi had used images of the president and first lady in compromising positions to promote his site. The letter stated: "However distasteful your business may be, we do not challenge your right to pursue it or to exercise your First Amendment rights, but we do challenge your right to use the White House, the president and the first lady as marketing devices."
Parisi also runs the Netscapesucks site (at www.netscapesucks.com). He's been asked by Netscape chiefs to remove the name Netscape as it's "offensive and injurious". The domain name is still registered to Parisi, but when we tried to visit the site, the page was unavailable, so the combined power of AOL and Netscape could have shut the site down. This hasn't stopped Parisi complaining that when you type Whitehouse.com into a Netscape browser, it defaults to the official White House site, rather than to Parisi's pages.
Kevin Sinclair put the domain name Computer.com, which he'd owned since 1994, up for sale in 1998. The starting price for bids was half a million dollars, and the sale was brokered by Gary Kremen (see the Sex.com story). Kremen was also involved in the $3 million sale of the Altavista.com domain name sale. He worked out a deal for Sinclair earlier this year, selling the rights to 75 per cent of the Computer.com domain for half million dollars and holding on to the remaining 25 per cent. Sinclair had received offers in excess of $1 million, but he was more interested in the long term opportunities that owning 25 percent of Computer.com gave him.
The new CEO of Computer.com, Mike Zapolin, is a happy man. As well as getting the domain name, Sinclair also has the free phone number 1-800 computer. Zapolin looks out for domain names that an being held by hobbyist or techies. He offers them a share of the business, plus a cash sum for the name. Last year, he and a partner bought majority stake in the Web site and domain name Beer.com. Within four months, he'd increased the traffic to over three million hits per month. Zapolin has signed a letter of intent to sell the Beer.com business for a whopping $7 million.
The Computer.com Web site is still under construction, but it should go live before Christmas, selling computers, peripherals and software. Zapolin also wants to turn the site into a computer information portal aimed at the novice and offering support, information and tips.
There's a new craze of buying the domain names of famous people. Martin Park bought the Billgatesco.uk domain name in May 1999. Park runs his own online classified ad site (at www.buystuff.com) and was inspired to buy the Billgates domain because "it's a really cool name and because he's the richest man in the world". Park claims he's not out to make a fast buck by flogging the domain back to Bill. "I'd really like to turn it into a Bill Gates fan club, although offers in excess of [pounds]10,000 have been made for the name".
Other high tech names have also lost out on the opportunity to own their own names as domains. Dave Davidson has registered the name of the former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale. Davidson registered jimbarksdale.com in an attempt to get publicity for his new Internet service, "of all the things we could give you to get your attention -- we can give you your domain name."
The BBC had long been frustrated by the fact that it was losing valuable Internet traffic to Boston Business Computing -- the company that had owned www.bbc.com since 1987. But if you type URL now, it sends you to the BBC Online home page. Rumours of how much the BBC paid for this domain have been rife, and it's caused ructions because it was bought with license payer's money. The BBC's own news service said they'd "spent a considerable sum on buying the address bbc.com". A purchase price of [pounds]200,000 seems to be the most quoted figure.
In 1997, the sale of Business.com for $150,000 set a record. IDNames.com brokered the sale between the seller, Business Systems International, and the buyer, a Texas-based company. The site is now home to Telecom Business, which has come up with a rather tedious site. The promo blurb says it's "The source for carriers, convergence, competition and next generation networks." What a waste of a great domain name.
10 News.com, radio.com and tv.com
Finally, we salute CNET (www.cnet.com), the Computer Network. It's managed to acquire some of the best domain names in the industry. The company owns some excellent names, including News.com, Radio.com and TV.com. They're all simple, easy to remember and easy to spell -- what more could you want from a domain name?
Bizarre domain name facts
Domain name registrar Network Solutions refuses to sell domain names containing seven forbidden words. These seven words are the same seven that are regulated on US radio and TV broadcasts -- I'm sure you can guess what they are. But you'll still find some domain names containing the prohibited words -- they were registered before the Network Solutions ruling. There have been protests against this censorship, claiming that Network Solutions is stifling free speech and questioning whether it has the right to do this since it's a privately held business. CORE, the Internet Council of Registrars, registered a number of domain names containing the banned names in July.
We're not so strict over here, and a recent change in the UK domain naming system rules has allowed offensive names into the UK domain. One of the first sites to jump on the bandwagon claims to belong to the Fulchester Underwater Canoeing Klubb -- we'll give you five seconds to work out what its domain might be. The site boasts the following text on the opening page "We hope you enjoy our site, but don't really give a flying **** if you don't"
An apple a day keeps the multinational away
Recognising that the iMac might be big news, 17 year old student Abdul Traya registered the domain Appleimac.com in 1998. This year, Apple sent him a stern letter demanding that he handed over the name immediately. Traya suggested that, in return for the domain name, Apple could donate 30 iMacs to a local school. Apple refused his request and Abdul rapidly turned into an online Robin Hood. Eventually, he grew tired of the battle and the rapidly increasing legal fees and settled with Apple in return for what was described as a "token payment".
All in the worst possible taste
The two teenagers behind the shootings of 15 people at a Denver high school were part of a gang called the Trenchcoat Mafia. Hours after the shooting, the domains trenchcoatmafia.com and thetrenchcoatmafia.com had been registered. The registrants claimed they'd snapped up the domains to stop them falling into the hands of unscrupulous people.
Bomb for sale. One careful owner
The publishers of Game Zero magazine owned the Bomb.com domain and decided to let it go by auctioning it off at the eBay Web site. Bids went as high as $95,000.
Watching us watching them
Check out Companysleuth.com. It keeps an eye on big businesses. Who'd have thought IBM would register bluebuddha.com? Or that Dell Computers would own the name Dellnot4me.org. Why has Microsoft bagged Magna.net? And what is Yahoo! going to do with Learn2growpot.Org?
There are 243 country level domains outside the US. Those in the professions or academia might fancy an .ac domain from the Ascension Islands (pop. 1,100).
Turkmenistan made a tidy profit selling its .tm addresses. The Island of Tuvalu sold its .tv name to a Canadian broadcaster for $60,000.
The .to domain from the Kingdom of Tonga is also popular (fly.to, drive.to, etc). Then there's American Samoa, which boasts the potentially useful .as domain. And Austria's always worth a whirl with its .at extension.