Dreams of domain name glory

Few Australian companies have registered for a top level domain name, but those who have hold big plans for their use. But are their expectations realistic?

Here’s a riddle: what do a physio in Western Australia, iiNet ,Webjet and the Australian Cancer Research Foundation have in common?

Aside from being based in Australia, all of these groups were recently revealed to have paid just under $200,000 to purchase their own ‘slice of the internet’; a top level domain name.

A top level domain name is the suffix on the end of a web address, like .com or .au. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which controls domain name registration, recently gave companies around the globe the ability to invent and purchase their own top level domain name, all for a hefty application fee of $US185,000 and an annual ongoing payment of $25,000 per year.

The release of applications this week showed only 44 applications for a unique domain name were made in Australia. Compare this to the 911 applications in North America and the 675 applications from Europe and it becomes apparent that there is something strongly deterring Australian organisations from seeking a domain name.

Perhaps it's the price? Perhaps it's the risk that a unique domain name won’t result in anything tangible? Perhaps it's too soon to tell?

Rather than dwell on the negative, Technology Spectator spoke to four unique domain name bidders to find out what made them want to invest in a word.

.iiNet 

For internet services provider iiNet, a $US185,000 price tag wasn’t a high enough cost to stop them being at the cutting edge of the internet.

According to iiNet’s operations manager, Roger Yerramsetti, the ISP invested in the domain name so it could “keep its options open” and stay ahead of this potential internet trend.

“Anyone who’s got in now will have a two to three-year head start,” he says.

Despite the head start, Yerramsetti says the company doesn’t have a “killer idea” as to how they are going to harness their .iinet domain name. “But it will come to us at some point,” he says.

In the meantime, Yerramsetti says iiNet is happy “playing in an area that nobody else thought was an opportunity”. No other telcos in Australia signed up for a domain name.

He says the biggest risk to their domain name venture is that they will need to make sure that all of the websites they tweak to use .iinet are also backwards compatible, meaning they will accept the suffix .com and .au as well.

Getting users to learn to add ‘.au’ to iiNet’s addresses was enough of a challenge, he says. 

.Webjet

The primary motivation for travel website Webjet in investing in a domain name wasn’t to do with marketing or trying to appear innovative. In fact, the website moved to buy the domain .webjet in a bid to stop cybersquatters from stealing its website address.

Managing director of Webjet, John Guscic says the site was constantly battling cyber criminals from China, Sweden and South Africa who would continuously set up websites with similar addresses to try and coax settlement money out of the company.

In the past, Webjet would pay up to $10,000 to close down each cybersquatter that successfully outmanoeuvred its legal attempts to bar them.

For Guscic, stonewalling cyber criminals' efforts to pilfer off his brand is enough of a reason to invest in a domain name.

The continual payoffs were getting costly for the website, and a once-off investment in a domain name is expected to eliminate that problem, as cyber criminals don’t have the ability to mimic a unique top level domain.

When asked whether search engine optimisation – one of the more commonly accepted reasons for purchasing a domain name – filtered into his company’s decision, Guscic said it did not.

“If people are searching for your brand, they’re going to find it anyway,” Guscic said.

.physio

For West Australian physiotherapist Glen Ruscoe it was a struggle to convince his wife that an investment in a domain name was a smarter buy than a second property.

The way he saw it, he could buy a house and have one tenant at a time or he could buy a domain name and have multiple people pay him to use it.

This is Ruscoe’s strategy for investing in the domain name .physio.

After purchasing the title he intends to rent out individual addresses to physiotherapists who want to add the suffix to their website URL.

Aside from the fact that he is one of the few individuals from around the globe vying for a domain name, Ruscoe says his drive to monetise his purchase distinguishes him from other applicants. He says that while many other companies are buying a domain to protect a brand, he’s looking to create one.

He’s so certain this business will take off that he has started up his own website, dotphysio.com, to take expressions of interest from physiotherapists who are curious about the internet venture.

At this point, there's no certainty that his investment will actually pay off. In fact, the main concern from many domain name applicants is that the public won’t truly understand the difference between .com and a unique name, meaning there won't be a demand for anyone to purchase one.

But for Ruscoe, the move is a “high risk, high reward” gamble.

.cancer research

Perhaps the most ambitious plans for the use of the domain name stem from the charity group, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

The foundation currently raises around $10 million in donations for cancer research every year and hopes to generate more through the use of a domain name – enough to one day cater to the $40 million to $50 million demand for research funding it receives each year.

But aside from using the domain name to raise the group’s profile, the foundation’s chief executive David Brettell wasn’t able to clearly outline how .cancerresearch would become a donation spinner.

“We see the domain as being a way to build a stronger financial capacity in order to do that,” he says, talking about the foundation's goal to contribute more to cancer research.

A post on the Australian Cancer Research Foundation’s website was equally vague on how the non-for-profit organisation's bid for a unique domain name would help its fundraising.

If this fundraising ‘silver bullet’ lies somewhere in promoting the foundation’s efforts on a world stage, then applying for a domain name may have helped.

The foundation was the only charity in Australia to apply for a domain name, with high profile organisations such as Oxfam, World Vision, Uniting Care, The Salvation Army and The Red Cross all passing on the opportunity.

Brettell insists that none of the foundation’s donations were put towards the domain name, as it only allocates the returns from its investment endeavours towards marketing purposes.

Is it worth it?

Even without any hiccups in the application process, or complaints from the general public, the earliest anyone can expect to see anything interesting ending a web address is mid-2013.

That may turn out to be a good thing for some applicants, as they will now have time to ponder their choice to apply for a domain name and fully think out the strategy for its use.

And with ICANN likely to open up another opportunity to apply for domain name in two to three years, other companies will have time to evaluate whether they made the right decision in not applying this time around.

Ultimately, perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Australian companies are holding back in this first ever round of domain name applications. Once again, perhaps we're waiting for others around the world to blaze a path for us to follow.

You can follow @HarrisonPolites on Twitter.

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