Musings on the value of domains
posted by shuri on 2009-06-20 10:44:13
tags: news,domains,name,brand

When I have an idea for a new website, I like thinking of names for it. Actually, my fondness of coming up with names goes beyond my possibly pointless hobby slash addiction with domain names. I often joke that the achievement I am most proud of in all the work on my masters degree is coming up with its name: "Do Not Crawl in the DUST: Different URLs with Similar Text". But do domain names have a value beyond proving your copyright abilities?

A name is a way for people to reference a specific person or entity. So when I say youtube you can easily guess or search how to find the site I'm talking about.  So if you can't spell it right (Did you say U2?), pronounce it easily, or if a search can't find the site or the ranking of your site for your name is very low this name might be problematic.

A name has to be memorable.That usually means it has to be short, composed of simple parts and preferably pronounceable by as many people around the world.

Finally, you want to build your name, meaning you want to create a widely accepted mapping between certain concepts and your name. Certain such mappings already exist in your mind: "video", "social" and "a friend" for example. Building on such concepts should be easier,

Taking all that in account, and assuming that domain names are here to stay, people choose and buy domain names in hope it would ease establishing their unambiguous, memorable and appropriately associated name. Fame and fortune is sure to follow.

Having said that, I find it interesting that 10 of top 50 properties according to Comscore are short, pronounceable but many are not inherently related to the concepts they represent and many are quite common words: Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, AOL (America Online), Fox (Fox Interactive Media), eBay, wikipedia, Amazon, Ask and Time Warner. A few of these have great association to desirable concepts: America Online for an Internet provider, Ask for a search engine, Microsoft for a company providing software to microcomputers and wikipedia for an online encyclopedia. One could argue for Time to be included in this group as well. However, eBay, established their associations in the minds of millions without any natural association. A quick wikipedia peek reveals that: "The company officially changed the name of its service from AuctionWeb to eBay in September 1997." They change their name from the "perfect natural association" keyword match to the name eBay. According to internet-story, they became successful as AuctionWeb and switched early in their success.

The last three domains are Yahoo, Google and Fox. Fox has the additional "Interactive Media" in its name. Google is hard to spell and was actually a misspelling of the word Googol which is a very large number. Despite the misspelling and the fact the word wasn't known to many Google managed to get their name in the dictionary! Isn't that the ultimate proof of establishing the association between concepts and a name?. And what did they do? They tried to fight it! Well apparently, if you do too good a job, you may lose your trademark. Finally, Yahoo established their name against all odds and against the current. The word is taken from the novel Gulliver's Travels and had 'become synonymous with "cretin," "dinosaur," and/or "Neanderthal."' due to this book.

To summarize, short, memorable and pronounceable are great. The great ones build their name from scratch and even overcome existing negative connotation.