.INFO Doing Better Than Expected

Despite a rough start, maybe even because of it,
Afilias’ .info domain extension is gathering steam and
might even one day supplant one of the original three
top-level domains (TLDs) in popularity.

Afilias, awarded the registry contract to one of seven
new TLDs approved by ICANN last year
, has managed
to garner 900,000 registrations since its Sunrise
pre-registration process began late last year.

Despite several
well-publicized glitches
in the domain extension’s
rollout and Sunrise
registration
, the registry quickly found alternate
solutions and began signing up new registrants at a
blistering pace, garnering 500,000 domain owners in
the first 90 days.

The limited number of .com and .net domain addresses
had a lot to do with .info’s success initially.
Overseas companies, namely in countries like Germany
and Korea, have only recently seen a surge in Internet
business, long after primarily U.S. companies took all
the good ones.

The new TLD opens space on the Internet for new
companies to grab a usable domain name. Now, the only
question is whether Afilias can keep interest in the
new TLD alive.

Dr. Bob Connor, associate professor at the Carlson
School of Management at the University of Minnesota,
and a vocal critic of Afilias’ early attempts at .info
management, concedes the company has done a good job
addressing some of the complaints leveled at them.

Last August, Connor predicted as many as 25 percent of
the names grabbed in the Sunrise period and land
rush
(pre-registration through registrars), were
bogus. Though Afilias officials scoffed at the high
number when announcing
their challenges
, the registry recently announced
they had challenged 25 percent of the registrations
and were putting them up on the market again.

Taking a big step like removing 25 percent of paid
domains is a good start, Connor said.

“The jury is still out, but my gut feeling is that
(.info) will be a success, but I don’t think you could
call it one now,” he said.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks, Connor said, is
the perception the new TLD is used only by trademark
owners protecting their turf or by cybersquatters
looking to make a buck.

“Actually, there are a number of working Web sites and
because there’s sometime a lag when Web sites go up
and when they’re listed on search engines, there are
probably more than I’ve been able to put together,” he
said.

Connor recently finished a report, “Where Does
.INFO Go?”
, which surveyed 1,600 working Web sites
using the .info moniker, taken from search engines
like DotInfoSearchEngine.info,
sites like InfoAwards.info
that rate .info sites, forum boards or Web master
submissions.

The most common .info sites are tourist sites (11.3 %)
promoting vacation spots, followed by Internet-related
sites like Web hosting and design (10.4 %) and other
business types (8.3%). Others: computer equipment
and services (5.6%); entertainment and music (5.4%);
health and fitness (5.1%); and education, training and
employment (4%).

Roland LaPlante, Afilias vice president and chief
marketing officer, said the company was fairly pleased
at the results of Connor’s report, though he felt it
important to point out the report’s survey only
included a sub-set of the domain extension’s number of
working Web sites.

According to LaPlante, technicians run a script every
month to monitor the sites it has registered to
determine whether they are a live site, used to
redirect to another site (usually .com, .net or .org)
or just bought to prevent someone else from getting at
the name.

Afilias estimates more than 200,000 .info sites are
“live,” providing new information that wasn’t
necessarily on the Internet before. In order for the
TLD to be considered a success, LaPlante said, the
number of functioning sites needs to grow.

“At the end of the day, just having registrations
isn’t going to be all that helpful to the Internet in
general,” he said. “It’s going to be important if
people are actually using those sites, and people are
putting together sites that add information to what’s
available on the Internet.”

Asked whether Afilias officials thought .info was a
success, LaPlante pointed to the obvious success of
the TLDs first year, but said it’s not as much as they
had hoped.

“Is it fulfilling the total volume estimates that were
put forth back when these proposals were originally
under consideration?” he said. “I’d have to say that
that is not happening.”

The reason? Several key points, some the fault of
Afilias but others that were completely out of their
control.

Getting the word out about .info, LaPlante said, isn’t
in their hands. Instead, Afilias relies on
registrars, word-of-mouth and the advertisements of
companies using the .info domain. He points to one
success story: the New York City metropolitan transit
authority (MTA), which until .info showed up, was
using a difficult-to-remember country code TLD (ccTLD)
www.mta.nyc.ny.us
to inform New Yorkers of bus and subway schedules.

After switching to www.mta.info, he said,
monthly page views for the Web site jumped from
300,000 to 3 million. The easy Web site address
helped millions get route information, but more
importantly to Afilias, was a perfect advertising tool
to get the word out about the TLD.

Another factor attributing for .info’s relative slow
adoption rate was the timing of its launch to the
public in the middle of September last year. “After
9/11, there was a slight depression in the business,
as you can well imagine, because people were
rightfully thinking about other things.”

Since then, however, officials at Afilias say domain
registrations have been steadily picking up, to the
point where it could impact the success of the Big
Three — .com, .net and .org. With nearly one million
.info registrants after 10 months, the domain has a
good shot of supplanting .org, which has 2.3 million
registrants.

“I decided to go out on a limb a little bit and take a
guess,” Connor said. “I think .org is the second
runner up, and they have a chance to reach that
number. They’ve done a lot of experimentation but I
think they’ve done a number of good things. There’s a
number of things they could do, but I think they’ve
done enough to make it work.”

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