Lessons from the 100 oldest domain names

Domain names have come a long way.

If we believe the internet chatter, we could be just a few weeks away from the launch of the gTLD program, with ICANN almost ready to press the big red reset button on the internet.  Once that happens we expect to see the online equivalent of the Gold Rush.  But for those of us old enough (shamefully I am raising my hand at this point), we have been here before.


On 1 January 1985 when many of us were recovering from a heavy new year’s eve, the first ever domain name was registered.  Contrary to popular opinion, it wasn’t Symbolic.com (which wasn’t released until March 1985), but it was Nordu.net, a domain name used for the first commercial nameserver.  Between 1 January 1985 and 30 November 1987, a total of 100 domain names were registered.  It took 35 months to reach 100 domain names.  Today, some registrars will top that figure in a matter of minutes.  Hardly a Gold Rush, and more a Plastic Crawl.


Nobody knows what will happen when the first new gTLDs are delegated. As adverts for financial products always say, “past performance cannot be used as an indicator of future results.”  But if we look back at those first 100 domain name registrations, how many have made it through nearly 30 years in one piece? Some fascinating research carried out by Domainidsex.com looked back at who applied for what, and where they are today.  Can we read anything into these results as a guide as to what the new gTLDs will give us?  Quite possibly...

About the 100 oldest domain names

42 of the domain names are owned by the same entities that originally made the application to register the names.  These include many of the biggest names in the technology sector such as ibm.com, att.com and Philips.com.  There are also a number of non-brand names that still belong to the original registrants including toad.com, nma.com and entity.com.


Apart from a few brands that share their name with a generic term, such as apple.com and fluke.com, generic names are a glaring omission from the list.  With high profile domain name sales in later years such as insurance.com, toys.com and of course sex.com, the domain investor was still playing with their Lego sets when Symbolics.com became the first website in March 1985.


Today, amazingly 12 of these 100 do not resolve to a live website and notably, highly valuable names such as ray.com, ub.com and gmr.com.  The owners of these domains will be missing out on thousands of dollars on a monthly basis on domain parking revenues alone.  Four of the names are actually used for monetization purposes, including prime.com.


So what lessons does this teach us?  For a start, the number of mergers and acquisitions that have taken place among the top 100 is likely to continue when the new gTLD dawn breaks.  The likes of 3Com, DEC, Data General and BellCore were global brands, ironically all in the technology sector, who registered their brand names in the first 100 domains. Yet today they are all part of bigger organizations.  The trend of mega-mergers is unlikely to disappear in the next few years, which means that some of the first gTLDs registered in the trademark Sunrise phase will undoubtedly have new owners within a few years.


One thing we can be sure of is that the first 100 registrations for each and every new gTLD will take place within seconds of the Sunrise phase opening.  And among those registrants will be some of those pioneers from the mid-eighties.  Time and technology may move on, but the successful businesses know the value of protecting brands and their intellectual property is as important today as it was nearly 30 years ago.

Written by Stuart Fuller, Director of Commercial Operations and Communications, NetNames

25 July 2013