I recently spent way too much time trying to find a domain for a project. Every good .com, and even most of the terrible ones, had long been claimed by squatters.
This got me to wonder how startups are dealing with this. From reading the news, it seems as though more and more are going with alternative TLDs like .me and .us. Many are even using domain hacks to turn this weakness into a strength. Are we reaching a tipping point with alternative TLDs, given their increasing visibility and viability?
To find out, I went to CrunchBase and collected the domains of 1,000 companies founded in each year from 2005 to 20111. Of course there are other factors at play in this sample, but it’s a fairly good way to uncover domain trends in the startup world.
What I found was that .com (in blue below) dominates, same as it ever has. The recognizability and prestige of .com is a powerful, self-perpetuating thing. For the past seven years, it’s hovered at 85 percent with little sign of dropping. About 50 other TLDs nibble on the leftover slice of pie. Mouse over the graph for more details.
Have startups been using the B-list TLDs, .net and .org? Only a bit. About 2 percent of startups use each, although while .org is finding a niche with NGOs and the like, .net may be falling out of vogue (relatively speaking) in recent years.
And here’s a closer look at an assortment of TLDs that seem to be popular with startups. Ironically but perhaps unsurprisingly, .biz is a flop, while .me, .io, and .co enjoy upticks in the last year. It remains to be seen if this is part of a larger trend.
For startups, one strategy might be to grab an alternative domain cheaply to start with, and to acquire the .com version when you get funded down the line. But with alternative TLDs hardly making a dent, it’s evident that having a .com is a priority right from the start, and that they’re perhaps willing to compromise their name to ensure that they land one.
Despite the crowding on .com, it turns out that domain names aren’t getting any longer. Here’s a graph showing that there’s even a slight decrease in the number of characters since 2009.
To keep domain names short, there’s certainly much of the same creativity with naming startups today as Paul Graham noted back in 2006. And despite the influx of alternative TLDs, startups are, for the time being, still dotcoms.