Out, Damned Dot!

DID SOMEONE SAY "dotcom"? Wash your mouth out with soap.

Dotcom, it seems, has become a dirty word. The suffix has fallen out of favor with the masses, who've had it up to here with havoc on the Nasdaq, dotcom ads, dotcom get-rich-quick schemes, dotcom pink slips and dotcommers driving real-estate prices sky-high. Now some companies, wary of skepticism from investors, are washing their hands -- and their company's names -- of the offensive suffix.

Companies that did so this year include J2 Global Communications (formerly Jfax.com), LifeMinders (formerly LifeMinders.com), Varsity Group (formerly VarsityBooks.com), Network Commerce (formerly ShopNow.com) and Preference Technologies (formerly Stockup.com). Chairmen of two other former dotcoms referred to the image of "flaky startups" and "companies with no business model and no hope of success" in public statements explaining their name changes, disdainful as if scraping dotcom doo-doo from their shoes after a walk through a pasture.

Businesses that support dotcoms are also avoiding the d-word. "Earlier this year, big companies couldn't say enough about their dotcom clients and how they were supporting them," says Preston Dodd, site operations analyst with Jupiter Research in New York City. Not now.

For companies heavily invested in dotcom-related identities, marketing and advertising, however, dumping the suffix isn't that simple. Take Sun "We're the dot in dotcom" Microsystems, for example, which proclaimed, "We're dotcomming the world." Or the domain-name registration company Network Solutions Inc. (NSI), "the dotcom people" who still have some dotcom domains they'd like to sell you from their site (dotcom.com). But, Dodd says branding yourself as the power behind the dotcom isn't necessarily a negative. "If you're supporting the dotcoms and the infrastructure, you're going to be making money, so it's OK. If you are the dotcom, [however,] it smacks more of startup and short shelf life."

For now, in any case, dotcom isn't going away. Companies that apply for a commercial use domain name have no choice but to take the suffix. During the second quarter of 2000, the NSI added 5.6 million new domains to its registry, 77 percent of which were dotcom. Companies also continue to stake their claims to trademarks that include ".com." All that may change, however, when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the nonprofit responsible for domain-name management, approves new suffixes for top-level commercial domains, such as .store or .site (still pending at press time).

And what about the Dallas computer systems manager who legally changed his name from Mitch Maddox to DotComGuy, became a shut-in and pledged to live solely off the Internet for a year beginning Jan. 1, 2000? Will he become just "Guy"? "As long as I can be a spokesperson for my website (dotcomguy.com) and its community, I'll keep the name DotComGuy," he says. "Eventually when the name is established enough, I'll change my name back."

This story, "Out, Damned Dot! " was originally published by CIO.

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