Playing the domain name game Featured

9:59am EDT July 22, 2002

Dominic J. Bagnoli Jr. of Emergency Medicine Physicians in Canton played the high-stakes Domain Name Game and won.

You’ve never heard of the Domain Name Game? You can’t find it in the TV listings. It’s not at Caesar’s Palace. And Milton Bradley didn’t unveil it with a new set of board games.

You’ll find it on the Internet and it’s one of the most popular games nationwide—for name holders and seekers alike.

A domain name is your Internet identity—www.yourbusiness.com. For their time and effort, some people are making a fortune buying and selling domain names. But unless you’re one of these brokers, you’re in for disappointment and frustration, because it’s a game you don’t want to play.

Bagnoli, COO of EMP became a reluctant contestant in 1997 when he pursued emp.com to reinforce his company’s branding and marketing strategy. Retail cost for a domain name from Herndon, Va.-based InterNIC, which administers Web addresses (more than 2 million to since 1995) is $70 for two years, then $35 a year.

But Bagnoli encountered one problem: Someone already had the name.

“We wanted to be very clear who we were. We’re not anything but EMP,” says Bagnoli. His company specializes in managing and staffing emergency departments with local physicians who are residency trained and board certified.

Working with his Web site developer, Data Direct Inc. in Canton, Bagnoli tried to see what it would cost to get the name. The owner of the domain name turned out to be a broker (apparently no longer in the business) who offered to sell it for about $800.

While Bagnoli considered paying, a different broker picked up the name—precisely how or why isn’t clear. The new owner wanted nearly $10,000.

Ann Schlosser, vice president of marketing for Data Direct, was busy exploring other options, such as available variations on the EMP name. Meanwhile, Bagnoli considered paying the asking price for his name.

He says he knew it was an obvious case of profiteering, but figured it would be better for him—and not a competitor—to use the name. Besides, the site was integral to his business—in addition to being a marketing tool, it handles certain business functions, such as allowing physicians to post schedule requests.

“We’re trying to build a regional reputation—maybe a national reputation eventually. We wanted something easy for people to find,” he says.

In the end, Bagnoli got what he wanted for the affordable list price; InterNIC re-released the name because the owners either failed to pay for it or didn’t use it online. It’s a common occurrence, according to Nancy Huddleton, an InterNIC spokeswoman.

When you apply for a domain name, InterNIC sends out an invoice, due in 30 days. If you don’t pay on time, InterNIC reissues the name.

While Huddleton didn’t know the specifics of Bagnoli’s case, she acknowledged it’s common practice for brokers to take out dozens of names at a time, then try to resell them before the invoices come due.

Bagnoli got off easy.

Compaq Computer Corp. recently paid a reported $3.3 million for the altavista.com domain name, which leads people to its well-known AltaVista search engine. While Compaq had acquired the search engine in its purchase last year of Digital Equipment Corp., the domain name had been the property of an unrelated company—AltaVista Technology Inc.—since before the search engine existed.

More recently, the aptly named domain broker All Dot Com (www.alldotcom.com) listed www.welcomeonline.com for sale. Asking price: $100,000.

“It really depends how much you want it and how much it’s worth to your marketing effort,” Schlosser says.

You can avoid the Domain Name Game by registering your preferred name as early as possible. “Get a domain and sit on it until you’re ready to do a site,” she says.

If the first name you want is taken, you do have alternatives. For example, rather than use a corporate name or an acronym, companies increasingly are coming up with creative names that refer to their products or services. That’s why www.tires.com takes you to Discount Tire Direct, while www.dishes.com delivers you to Procter & Gamble’s Web site for Dawn dish soap.

How to reach: EMP (330) 833-9400; Data Direct: (330) 499-0692

Michael M. Murray is a freelance writer specializing in online issues.


Domain name help

You can pay an Internet service provider or Web site developer such as Data Direct to register your name or you can do it yourself by visiting InterNIC’s Web site at www.internic.net. If you want to know whether a specific name is taken, conduct a WHOIS search by typing the desired name into the space provided on InterNIC’s home page. Results are free and immediate.