SOME FOLKS SEEK their fortune with dot-com. Brian Cartmell is seeking his with dot-cc.
Cartmell is one of a handful of entrepreneurs who are looking to popularize new "top-level domains"—those abbreviations at the far right of Internet addresses. Specifically, Cartmell, a Seattleite, has secured exclusive rights to manage the domain name registry for the Cocos Islands, a 5.4-square-mile territory of Australia, population: 650, domain name: .cc.
By arrangement with the Internet's governing body, known as IANA, Cartmell has been granted the right to sell off all Web addresses that include the Islands' top-level domain. He claims to have sold more than 60,000 .cc addresses so far through his Web site, enic.com (or, if you prefer, enic.cc) and says he expects to reach a half-million this year. "Like anything, it's marketing," he says.
While corporations are sinking billions of dollars into brand names and Web addresses that are tied to the "global" domains, such as .com, .net, and .org, nearly two hundred other top-level domains are available from individual countries—such as .nz in New Zealand, .kz in Kazakstan, .uk in the UK. Your browser can find these addresses as well as any, and that spells potential trouble for big companies like Amazon who don't want to see their traffic stolen away by some Montserrati upstart at www.amazon.ms.
It also spells opportunity for people like Cartmell, who are hoping to bring some of these obscure domains into more common use—and perhaps squeeze a little cash from Amazon in the process. "Lots of countries didn't understand the potential here," says Cartmell.
Cartmell, 30, says he's been in the computer industry since his student days at Ballard High School. Asked about his professional background, he says he has mostly been a "consultant." He does not mention that he was the president of Internet Entertainment Group, the Seattle-based online pornography giant founded by Seth Warshavsky back in 1995.
Cartmell says he has never visited the Indian Ocean islands that are his domain's namesake—they're reachable only by once-a-week flights from Perth, Australia. He has a contact in New Zealand who serves as his go-between. The Islands, whose main export is coconut meat, do not receive a cut from the .cc registration fees; but Cartmell says the country has received other benefits from its partnership with his firm, such as being wired with satellite-linked Internet service. He says his eventual goal is to transfer the registry to the locals.
The name of Cartmell's company, eNIC, is meant to echo InterNIC, the global database of .com names. For $100, eNIC will sell you www.whatever.cc, with renewal (and another $100) necessary after two years. Meanwhile a .com name generally costs only $70 for two years. Why would anyone want it? Cartmell's Web site makes the pitch: "Most of the good, short, easy to remember names in .COM are already taken." But with .cc, "there is plenty of new, empty real estate . . . you can have a domain name that fits your business, idea, family or other name more closely." The .cc domain "is expected to match .com in growth and commercial use worldwide" declares another Cartmell site. The domain has a generic nature, Cartmell says, and could potentially stand for a lot of things, such as 'credit card' and 'computer commerce.'
Cartmell is by no means the first to think of exploiting an international domain name with a marketable sound. A few years ago, a Canadian company got the rights to manage .tv, the assigned domain for the tiny south Pacific island of Tuvalu. The company had visions of multimillion-dollar domain-name auctions, but never managed to get off the ground. It was recently brought under the wing of idealab! entrepreneur Bill Gross (creator of the now-defunct Free-PC), who promises a relaunch later this year.
Another private company is hoping to make .md (Moldova) a destination domain for medical-related sites. A San Diego firm is about to launch WorldSite.ws, on behalf of Western Samoa. Perhaps the lamest effort to date has been the repeated attempts to market Web addresses from Christmas Island (.cx) as a holiday gift item.
These new domain sales efforts are not only intended to open up new Web real estate, as the marketing materials suggest, but also to give obscure domain names sufficient prominence so that thousands of established Web businesses feel obliged to buy them.
"We want to brand World Site strongly enough so that people who already have .com, .net, .org will want to register, will want to protect themselves," says Michael Papale, president of Planet Earth Communications, which is managing WorldSite.ws. Indeed Papale says he intends to "reserve" some 1,500 names—including the Fortune 500, prominent Internet companies, and professional sports teams—for 60 days after the .ws launch, though he has "no legal obligation" to do so. "We want to have a good relationship with those folks," says Papale.
It's clearly a very touchy subject for "those folks." Of a half-dozen local companies that have invested heavily in dot-commerce—including Eddie Bauer, REI, Nordstrom, HomeGrocer, and Redmond-based Infospace—not one was willing to speak to Seattle Weekly about the .cc issue. None of the firms appears to own its corresponding .cc domain name. The address www.infospace.cc, for example, was registered last August by somebody in Georgia.
Amazon.com, which does aggressively buy up its name in international domains, has secured amazon.cc. Browsers that are pointed to that address get automatically forwarded by Cartmell's company to Amazon's US home page. (Bezos missed the boat in Brazil, however: www.amazon.com.br belongs to a local ISP.)
Pinky Brand, who oversees worldwide domain name services at Network Solutions in Washington, DC, says he "actively suggests" to his clients that they register in obscure domains such as .cc and .ws, but "not as a replacement for .com. I can't imagine anyone banking all their marketing plans on that."
The rise of the international dot-ceteras has created new headaches for corporate Internet users just when they're winning new protection for their domain-name trademarks in the US. For instance, Congress recently passed so-called "anticybersquatting" legislation that allows for civil penalties against people who register trademarked names that they don't own as part of a Web address. Companies such as Nintendo are already cracking down on offenders (see "Game over," SW, 1/6/00).
Indeed, Cartmell was a defendant in one of the early, precedent-setting cases on this issue. Back in 1996, the kids' toy-maker Hasbro successfully enjoined him and his former employer, Internet Entertainment Group, from using the name Candy Land—one of Hasbro's longest-selling children's board games—as the domain name for a porn site.
But now, US firms face the threat of somebody registering their coveted brand names with such far-flung postage-stamp entities as the South Sandwich Islands (.gs) or Micronesia (.fm), where the cybersquatting law does not apply. "It's an industry," says Jim Dugan, co-chair of the Intellectual Property group at Seattle's Foster Pepper & Shefelman law firm. Dugan, who represents corporate trademark holders, says "It's usually a lot cheaper to buy [a squatter] out than to try to sue someone in Brazil. You pay somebody $20,000 and have the name the next day."
Court rulings have largely insulated registration services from any liability, says Dugan: "It's see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." Cartmell's Web site, like those selling .com names, explicitly notes that the registration process is "completely automated" and that eNIC makes no attempt to verify who's got legal rights to what. For his part, Cartmell says "I don't think trademarks should be used as the basis for who's entitled to a domain name."
Yet .cc-squatting may not be as lucrative as some imagine. Last spring, 19-year-old Oriya Pollak of New York City says he got "a spam letter from the .cc guys" encouraging him to follow the lead of companies like Amazon and Intel and invest in the new domain. "I stayed up for two nights and registered all these crazy names," says Pollack. These included WindowsNT.cc, buycheap.cc, and villagevoice.cc. "I was thinking I would make millions off it." But when he tried to auction the names off on eBay and Amazon, he got "no reply—none." Pollack, who is now VP of Network Operations for a broadband company called iNYC, says he is giving the names back to Cartmell's firm and asking for a refund. "I realized dot-cc is definitely not it."
Celebrate Christmas with .cx.
Read the Hasbro v. IEG decision.
Find out if the .cc name you want has been registered yet.
Watch your spelling: www.internick.net takes you to Cartmell's site. www.internic.net takes you to the interNIC.