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How Donuts Became The World’s Largest Registry Overnight

Does the world need more than .com? This company is betting yes.

How Donuts Became The World’s Largest Registry Overnight
[Image: Flickr user tinymwriter]

Since time immemorial, dot-com has been the only top-level domain, or TLD, that’s ever mattered. But now a domain registry named Donuts has put $58 million into registering new dot-whatever Internet names, making it into the largest domain registry in the world–overnight. Google is number two with 101 generic top-level domains, or gTLDs in Internet-speak.

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But can all that money actually topple our cultural attachment to dot-com?

What’s In A Name?

“You don’t want to be in dot-com because it doesn’t mean anything.” Daniel Schindler, cofounder of Donuts. “If dot-com was released now with all these other TLDs it wouldn’t have any success at all. It only had its success because it had a near monopoly for 25 years,” says Schindler. This isn’t the world we live in, though. The web consists of about a trillion pages and only around 1.6 million new gTLDs. The most visited sites everyone knows and loves all end in dot-com.

If Schindler sounds convinced, it’s because he’s put a lot of capital behind this hypothesis. At $185,000 each, applying for domain names isn’t exactly a cheap investment. Donuts applied for 307 domains, which is how they got to that $58 million figure.

So, how do you pick winners in the domain game? Schindler was reluctant to share Donuts’ methods, but told me there are 20-25 parameters that determine which domains will be successful. In the past, new gTLDs like dot-co or dot-us have performed with mixed results. Donuts points to .guru, which they suspected would be popular; in fact it has turned out to be a runaway success with 64,000 .guru domains registered in just a few months.

Domain names categorizing a specific field are strongest contenders, Schindler says. He points to .photography as an example. “We debated long and hard whether a world that was used to seeing two- and three-letter TLDs would actually welcome a TLD that had whatever photography’s got,” a comparatively long 11 letters. “Forty-thousand people have signed up for [that] one because of its specificity.”

Specificity isn’t always strong enough to sell domains, though. The .vision domain has been available for about a month and has just over 1,000 registrations.

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How Domains Are Made

You might be wondering where all these new domain names came from in the first place. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the worldwide governing body for these things, and they voted recently to lift the restrictions that have been in place on new domains. New gTLDs have been trickling out ever since.

Last week saw the launch of dot-services, a new gTLD that Donuts expects to perform well. “We’re moving from a manufacturing-run world to a service-run world. Home cleaning services, car cleaning services, legal services, local gardening services, everyone’s in the service industry one way or another,” Schindler told me. Apparently macroeconomics is part of the domain-guessing formula.

The dot-services domain went live shortly before I spoke with Schindler on the phone and had already sold over 3,000 registrations before the end of our call.

There is evidence that obtaining a site with an appropriate domain may be more important than seeking out dot-com. Crops of sites registered under new TLDs have no dot-com equal. Consultinghouse.ventures is a registered site but consultinghouseventures.com is not. The information hub for Yakima, Washington is yakima.info but yakimainfo.com is a blank page. We may see even more websites forgo dot-com in the future.

How To Get One

You’ll need to follow a set of ground rules to register a website under a new gTLD. The Sunrise Period is a 60-day window of time before the actual public sale. This is a mandate set by ICANN so companies that hold trademarks can protect their brand. Schindler says this helps avoid the “cyber squatting” that occurred during the dot-com boom. The Sunrise Period is when a company like Microsoft would be able to buy the domain dot-windows.

After the Sunrise Period, there’s an early access program that lasts for seven days. During this time domains sell on a first-come, first-served basis where the price starts out high and drops every day. During the EAP, a company like Verizon may want to register cell.phone since they don’t have a trademark for “phone.” Verizon would pay a little more for that domain, but “we want to see organizations like that get cell.phone because they’re going to market it. They’re going to use it and they’re going to help build out the dot-phone TLD brand,” says Schindler.

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