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Thousands of short .co domains available

The .co registry may have sold over a million domains since it launched a year ago, but there may be quite a bit of potentially valuable real estate still available.

.CO Internet said in its registrar newsletter this week that, as of May 31, 51.2% of three-letter domains and 71.1% of three-character combinations were still available.

On the back of the envelope I’m looking at, that works out to about 9,000 three-letter names and about 33,000 three-letter/number domains.

No three-letter domains are available for the basic registration fee in .com.

Three-letter domains are often considered fairly safe investments by domainers, from a cybersquatting risk perspective, but UDRP panelists don’t always agree.

UPDATE: In response to a few skeptical reader comments, I pinged .CO for clarification. It turns out that the quoted percentages include the seven Spanish IDN characters that .CO allows — á, é, í, ó, ú, ñ, ü.

Domains including these strings would presumably be far less appealing to registrants, and not all .co registrars offer IDN characters.

The number of pure ASCII three-letter domains available in .co is presumably much, much lower than my envelope math suggested.

Overstock becomes .co’s anchor tenant from heaven

Overstock.com is to slap its new brand, O.co, on the Oakland Raiders stadium in California, bringing yet more exposure to the .co top-level domain.

The company bought the stadium naming rights back in April, and was pushed into the rebranding now because the sign needs to go up, according to AdAge.

Presumably, whenever American football fans tune into a broadcast or read the sports pages, they’re now going to be exposed to the .co brand.

Not many TLDs have that claim to fame. According to Wikipedia, the only other stadium in the US currently named after a domain is the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona.

Overstock has been so good for .CO Internet’s marketing, it’s easy to forget that the company actually paid for the domain, splashing out $350,000 a year ago.

I’d hazard a guess that if the registry had known just how prolific the O.co brand would become, it would have given the name away for free.

Currently, the domain o.co redirects to overstock.com, but the site logo refers to “O.co, also known as Overstock.com”.

A million .co domains registered

At some point over the last few weeks the one millionth .co domain was registered, approximately ten months after the domain names became generally available.

That’s pretty good going (better than I expected) when compared to other large-scale TLD launches, such as .mobi, which took almost five years to hit the same milestone.

Registry .CO Internet has been marketing .co domains hard for the last 12 months, particularly in California, where it is focused on attracting Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

To turn the one million milestone into a marketing event, the company has also released some customer endorsement videos at a new site, UnderTheBulb.co (which it’s advertising in my sidebar).

Whether the rapid growth is sustainable is now the question. The one-year anniversary of .co’s launch is coming up in late July, and we might expect a number of early speculative registrations to expire.

But .CO Internet seems confident that it won’t see much of a blip, as its numbers suggest that the vast majority of its registrants – reportedly north of 80% – own fewer than 10 domains each.

Chief executive Juan Calle joked that the company had considered a marketing campaign to coincide with the anniversary, with the slogan “Let ‘Em Drop”, to use a bit of reverse psychology on domainers.

“The registry growing fairly fast,” said Calle. “What happens is that if those domains get dropped they’ll get picked up by real users and businesses.”

The rapid growth is no doubt due in no small part to Go Daddy, which has been prominently featuring .co domains on its front page for months, and to promotional pricing.

Under the current promotion, .CO Internet has roughly halved its registry fee to about $9.50 for first-year registrations, which has translated into $11.99 domains at the checkout.

But Calle said the higher price of .co domains, usually around the $30 mark, does not deter its target customer base, which are business users rather than speculators.

“Pricing is secondary to marketing when it comes to the growth rate — when we do things like the Super Bowl, or when Overstock [which rebranded as o.co] runs their commercials for a week nationally,” he said.

TechCrunch abandons Disrupt.co

TechCrunch seems to have abandoned the .co domain name it acquired with much fanfare last year to promote its Disrupt technology conference.

Disrupt, which kicks off its 2011 show in New York today, was one of the first organizations to obtain a .co domain under .CO Internet’s pre-launch Founders Program.

The conference used the domain to promote its Startup Battlefield competition in May 2010.

But today, just hours before the latest conference begins, disrupt.co still leads to this legacy content. It does not appear to have been updated for the 2011 show.

There was no mention in last year’s announcement of a multi-year commitment to use the domain, so perhaps it was a one-time thing.

The official Disrupt site can be found at disrupt.techcrunch.com.

One-letter domain sales not enough for .co

.CO Internet has added another high-profile customer to its roster of .co domain name registrants with the announcement today that Amazon has purchased four premium names.

Amazon has acquired a.co, k.co, z.co and cloud.co. The deal follows the allocation of t.co and x.co to Twitter and Go Daddy respectively and Overstock.com’s purchase of o.co.

While this is undoubtedly great news for .co’s visibility, it seems to me that .CO Internet is in danger of looking like a one-trick pony due to the brand’s over-reliance on high-profile short domain deals.

If Amazon throws its marketing muscle behind cloud.co, that will prove much more useful in terms of awareness-raising than the allocation of more single-character domains ever will.

It remains to be seen what Amazon plans to do with its three new short .co domains. It would be much more useful for the TLD if they are used for purposes other than URL shorteners.

There are only 36 such domains available. If people only associate .co with short Twitter links, the appeal of the TLD could be checked.

.CO Internet knows this, of course, which is why its marketing strategy from the start has been focused on gaining rank-and-file support from entrepreneurs and web developers.

Right now, I can’t help but feel that the longevity of the .co brand could benefit much more from a successful start-up or two than yet another single-character domain sale.

Prices for the Amazon domains were not disclosed. The four domains combined could feasibly have fetched a seven-figure sum, judging by the $350,000 Overstock paid for o.co.

The registry has also for some months been trying to sell off i.co, and has engaged Sedo as its broker.

.CO to accredit 20 more registrars

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2011, Domain Registries

.CO Internet is looking for more registrars to start selling .co domain names.

The company has just released a request for proposals, saying it plans to accredit up to 20 new registrars over the next 12 months.

.CO’s registrar channel was limited by its agreement with the Colombian government to 10 registrars in its first year of business – the government had originally wanted only three, to limit gaming – but that restriction no longer applies.

While there are only 10 .co registrars currently, a few of them operate reseller channels or gateways that have enabled unaccredited registrars to also sell the domains, albeit on non-optimal terms.

According to the RFP, .CO is particularly interested in registrars that are willing to promote the .co TLD by either bringing it to new markets or making it the subject of special marketing campaigns.

While .co operates outside of ICANN control, the company is sticking to its policy of only accepting ICANN-accredited registrars into its channel.

Also, only registrars that are already accredited to sell .biz domains (as well as .com and .net) will be able to offer .co, presumably due to the fact that Neustar is the registry provider for both.

This effectively excludes about 115 registrars, many of which are shell or legacy accreditations used for drop-catching.

There are certain unspecified “special considerations” that apply to corporate-focused registrars, according to the RFP, presumably because they tend to be rather low-volume and generally focused on defensive registrations.

.CO quiet on Super Bowl sales

Kevin Murphy, February 18, 2011, Domain Registries

Judging from its CEO’s latest blog post, .CO Internet doesn’t want to talk about how many new .co domain names were registered following its Super Bowl commercial with Go Daddy.

I take this as a sign that the event did not have an earth-shattering impact on its registration numbers.

Making some basic assumptions, reading between the lines, and using some back-of-the-envelope math, I estimate that the number of new .co domains registered was likely less than 50,000.

That’s not terrible, but I think it could take quite some time for the company to see a return on its investment, given that its margins on the promotional pricing would have been pretty thin and that at least a quarter of those registrations will likely disappear a year from now.

I doubt it made enough cash on the day to pay for Joan Rivers’ boob job.

But in Juan Calle’s post, he makes it clear that .CO is playing the long game. He wrote:

The most common success metric that many registries use is the total number of domain names registered. Although we are certainly enjoying our incredible growth – the number of .CO domains registered is simply not a metric we believe is robust enough to measure the kind of impact we fully plan and expect to have in the world over the long term.

You can be fairly sure that if .CO had doubled the size of its customer base last week, or broke through the million-domain milestone, Calle would not be talking in these terms.

He’s not keen on using secondary market prices to define success either, saying he expects it will be four or five years before the .co aftermarket matures.

Sedo’s .co auction, which ended yesterday, saw the majority of domains fail to meet their lofty reserves. But that’s not necessarily a slight on .co – auction activity in general has been sluggish recently.

Calle has some fetal ideas about how to measure the success of a TLD. He wrote:

To gauge the impact of the .CO extension, I think we will need to consider a combination of factors. Imagine, if you will, a sort of “Gross Domain Product” or “GDP,” measuring not only the total number of .CO registrations, but the number of websites developed, and the broader value of the economic activity happening within the .CO space.

It’s an interesting idea, but there’s a reason why most people judge TLDs based on their number of registrations. It goes something like: registrations = revenue = profit.

Selling domains is generally a registry’s only revenue stream. A registry with few registrations won’t turn a profit, and stands less of a chance of staying in business.

And for the aftermarket, a TLD retaining a large number of registered and renewing domains over the long term means there’s demand, which leads to higher prices.

Fortunately for .co, it is off to a great start, with probably something approaching 700,000 domains under its belt in just seven months, if my envelope-back is reliable.

Calle’s post gives every indication that the company plans to keep up its aggressive marketing spend, so the TLD stands, I think, a pretty good chance of breaking through the one million domains mark this year.

Gratuitous Go Daddy girl butt photo

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2011, Gossip

Apologies to lady readers for the blatant sexism.

And apologies to discerning readers of both genders for shamelessly buying into Go Daddy’s propaganda machine.

But it is a very, very nice photograph.

Go Daddy Girl 2011

Any guesses who the new Go Daddy girl will be?

She’s almost certainly Latina. Probably Colombian, given the .CO Internet tie-in Go Daddy’s planning for the Super Bowl.

Shakira’s probably too expensive.

Mike Berkens reckons Sofia Vergara is a likely candidate, but I’ve no idea who she is because I’m British.

I’ve managed to rule out Heather Mills McCartney and Queen Latifah.

What O.co says about new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2011, Domain Registries

Overstock.com’s shock rebranding move yesterday is not only a big marketing coup for .CO Internet, it also may be good news for new top-level domains in general.

In a pair of US TV commercials (available here and here if you’re overseas) Overstock has started calling itself O.co, the domain it bought privately from the .co registry for $350,000 last July.

When I wrote, last November, “Overstock’s .com domain is its brand, and that’s not about to change”, I may well have been wrong. Go to overstock.com and look at the logo.

This is good evidence, if it were needed, that the very same trademark interests currently opposed to ICANN’s new TLDs program are also keenly aware of the benefits.

Overstock has had its eyes on O.com for over five years, and fought unsuccessfully within ICANN to have single-letter .com domains released from the VeriSign reserved list.

It was not until .co relaunched last summer – essentially a new TLD – that Overstock got the opportunity to register a domain (almost?) as good as the one it wanted.

I find this interesting because Overstock, like many other major brand owners, has been a vocal opponent of new TLDs.

In a July 2009 letter to ICANN (pdf), for example, Overstock expresses many of the same views about new TLDs that are still being expressed by the trademark interests currently holding up the program.

I’m not suggesting that Overstock’s eagerness to use O.co negates its specific criticisms of the new TLDs program, but its conflicting behavior does seem to suggest a certain degree of cognitive dissonance.

On the one hand, it opposed new TLDs. But when a new TLD launched, it grasped the opportunity with both hands and rebranded the whole company around it.

If what I hear is true, many of the companies publicly opposed to new TLDs are also the ones simultaneously investigating their own “.brand” domains.

Could Overstock’s latest move represent a pent-up demand for new TLDs among big brands? What does that mean for the future of .com as the internet’s premium real estate?

Go Daddy offers Whois privacy for .co domains

Kevin Murphy, December 22, 2010, Domain Registrars

.CO Internet has started allowing registrars to offer Whois privacy services for .co domains, according to Go Daddy.

In a blog post, Go Daddy’s “RachelH”, wrote:

When the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and .CO Internet S.A.S. drafted the .co policy earlier this year, they decided to hold off on private registration to prevent wrongful use of the new ccTLD — especially during the landrush. Now that .co has carved its place among popular TLDs, you can add private registration to your .co domain names.

Unless I’m mistaken, ICANN had no involvement in the creation of .co’s policies, but I don’t think that’s relevant to the news that .co domains can now be made private.

During its first several months, .CO Internet has been quite careful about appearing respectable, which is why its domains are relatively expensive, why its trademark protections were fairly stringent at launch, and why it has created new domain takedown policies.

It may be a sign that the company feels confident that its brand is fairly well-established now that it has decided to allow Whois privacy, which is quite often associated with cybersquatting (at least in some parts of the domain name community).

It could of course also be a sign that it wants to give its registrars some love – by my estimates a private registration would likely double their gross margin on a .co registration.