RealTime IT News

.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."