Are .net and .info domains a .complete waste of time?
By Matt Lake
The first-grade child of one of my neighbors caused quite a stir in her writing class. Her parents were called in because their little girl was ending every sentence with an unusual piece of punctuation. Instead of using a period like everyone else in her class, she put a period and some letters.
Her rationale? "It's a dot-com. Isn't that how they should all end?"
This type of behavior isn't just a classroom gaffe, it's a common frame of mind. Lots of people think .com when they think about the Web. If the domain you use has an extension other than .com, you can bet that potential visitors will get it wrong.
One of my clients recently railed that since she switched to Comcast, none of her e-mail was getting through. She was losing clients because of Comcast's pathetic mail system, she said, and could I help her fix it? I could, and easily, because she was giving out her new e-mail address out as @comcast.com instead of @comcast.net. This is not a forehead-slapping case of stupidity--we're dealing with a hugely educated and successful businesswoman here--it happens all the time. Even on national TV. Just last week during the vice presidential debate, Dick Cheney pointed viewers to FactCheck.com instead of FactCheck.org.
If the domain you use has an extension other than .com, you can bet that potential visitors will get it wrong.
The .com extension is so popular that all others take a backseat. Heck, they're lucky to be riding in the same car as the .com suffix, which is definitely at the wheel. It's almost like .com has dismembered the other extensions and is driving them to a landfill off a remote exit in New Jersey.
So should you raise an eyebrow at the news that Dotster is actually giving away a year's free registration for .info domains? Or that GoDaddy is offering .info registrations for $1 with all the fixings (domain forwarding, domain locking, and so on) until October 22? Each of these registrars is capping its domain giveaway at 25 domains per person, and of course, each one is a gift horse, but is a .info domain really worth the time and effort?
The .info age
I say yes, alternative domains can be worth every bit as much as a .com domain, but only if they're handled correctly. Most people who buy .net, .org, .info, or the truly awful .biz do so because they couldn't get the .com version of the domain. That's the worst reason for doing it.
Dotster is giving away a year's free registration for .info domains, and GoDaddy is offering them for $1 with all the fixings.
If you're forced to go alternative, embrace your non-.com domain and market it properly. Back in the salad days of the Web, .net was for network providers--a rarified technical crew--and .org was only for nonprofit organizations. The .org domain still carries with it an aura of noble altruism, which is great if that's what your site does. If your site is all about selling something for profit, nobody will penalize you for using a .org domain, but it won't fit, and people will undoubtedly address mail and Web browsers to the .com version of your name. Likewise, if your site has nothing to do with a network, registering a .net domain just broadcasts the fact that you're taking a second-best domain name, and that's not an image most people want to project.
Learning geography through domain extensions
The triad of .com, .net, and .org domains aren't the only options on the menu. For years now, domain registrars have touted oddball extensions originally designed for different country codes. Western Samoa's .ws was heavily touted about six years ago as the "Web Site" domain--though it hasn't made a huge impression. And Tuvalu's .tv extension was heavily marketed to media companies, along with .fm and .am from Micronesia and Armenia, respectively.
Call me a curmudgeon if you will, but these domains just strike me as silly at best and desperate at worst--just marketing-driven attempts from domain registrars to squeeze a few bucks out of a credulous or desperate public. No doubt smart marketers can make something of a catchy .tv domain, but nothing I'd necessarily want to visit.
Call in the .pros
About the only top-level domain that actually says something about the person who registered it (other than the fact they could afford the free-to-$35 registration) is .pro. The agency that manages the domain, Registrypro.pro, requires applicants to prove that they are licensed doctors, lawyers, and accountants. No documentation, no .pro domain. At press time, the registry accepts certification from agencies in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany. But the cumbersome two-extension domain may put people off: Doctor Joe Blow is not joeblow.pro, but joeblow.med.pro. His legal and accounting counterparts are .law.pro and .cpa.pro. Most doctors I know would hope that their eight years of medical training would earn them a snappier domain.
But back to Dotster and GoDaddy's .info blowout. Should you spend your time or minimal amounts of money on such a domain? It's questionable, of course. If you can establish a strong link in people's minds between your site and reliable information, it's a good domain space to occupy. And the trail has already been blazed by New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority--its fabulously marketed mta.info site is a paragon of the medium matching the content. It's the MTA, the site has transit information--what better way to get that message across than with a .info domain? Too bad they set it up years ago. They could have gotten it free from Dotster this month.