The world of domain names has seen its fair share of controversy, and one of the hottest recent debates concerns the new .mobi domain, which covers mobile internet sites. It’s run by mobile Top Level Domain Ltd (mTLD, or dotMobi informally), whose investors include the likes of Ericsson, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, T-Mobile and Vodafone. dotMobi opened up registrations to companies in June, before allowing everyone else to sign up last week.
Controversy? There’s been plenty, including claims that .mobi is unnecessary, risks splitting the internet in two, and even accusations that it is purely for squeezing more cash out of companies frightened that someone else may register ‘their’ domain. Many of these criticisms have been made online, and dotMobi CEO Neil Edwards doesn’t mince his words when responding to them.
"It’s the most juvenile argument," he says. "We have companies like Microsoft, Business Week and BMW who all spend a lot of money doing proper development of their systems, so it’s insulting that guys who write free blogs are passing judgement on how the best minds in the world should do their development."
But let’s rewind to some of the facts. Since June, over 13,000 companies have registered .mobi domains, while since the first day of last week’s ‘landrush’, Edwards says that over 111,000 domains have been registered. Around 65% of these came from North America, 20% from Europe and 15% from Asia, with more than 100 countries included. Interestingly, China was the third largest country in terms of .mobi registrations.
The key question, however, is how many of those companies are actually planning to launch .mobi sites, versus those who have simply bought the domain name to stop anyone else buying it. Last week, for example, US telco Verizon’s associate general counsel told the FT that they’d only registered verizon.mobi for the latter reason. So are many .mobi sites actually launching?
"We didn’t expect to see a lot of these brands go live until sometime in 2007," says Edwards. "The hosting tools have got to catch up with the sale of names. But we’ve seen Business Week launch a commercial ad-supported mobile magazine behind businessweek.mobi, there’s kicker.mobi, the leading football magazine in Germany, and then Microsoft have made a conscious decision to put their mobile services behind live.mobi."
So how about that Verizon comment then? Unsurprisingly, Edwards is bullish, pointing out that Verizon’s ‘closed’ mobile internet portal doesn’t fit with .mobi’s philosophy of encouraging better mobile internet sites outside the operators.
"They quoted the junior assistant general counsel of Verizon saying
that .mobi’s not a good idea. What do you expect?" says Edwards. "That’s the company
that runs a closed portal! That’s their business model. And anyway, she’s not the person who’s actually making the business
Moving on, the big challenge for dotMobi now is less about selling more domains – that will be down to resellers – and more about its other aim, of encouraging better mobile internet sites. It’s part of what companies sign up to when buying a .mobi domain, and Edwards says that dotMobi will be monitoring all the .mobi sites, and providing diagnostic tools to let people know if their site is up to scratch.
But with over 120,000 registrants, there needs to be more information and assistance out there on how to develop effective mobile sites. Edwards says that dotMobi is working with ten web hosting companies, who are developing hosting and design packages to help people get up and running with their .mobi site.
"A year ago when we built the dotMobi mobile site, we spent $25,000 on it, as there were only three to five companies in Europe who could build a mobile site properly. Now, that same site would cost around $30 or $40. The bottom line is that mobile hosting is now affordable for the average guy on the street. We’re also about to launch a big developer program and a user guide on how to do mobile development."
There is one more lot of selling to be done, though. dotMobi has held 5,000 generic .mobi domain names back, including the likes of money.mobi, travel.mobi and cars.mobi (and intruigingly, according to ipwalk, also cocaine.mobi and heroin.mobi). Some of these will be sold through an assessment process, which Edwards says will ensure the sites are reputable and useful for mobile users, while others will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
"Something like travel.mobi we wouldn’t auction off, because we want to make sure it goes to a travel site that provides things like online hotel reservations, and real information," he says. "We’ll be asking people about their business capabilities, their technical capabilities, their commitment to the market and making sure they build a good mobile experience based on our standards. But something like travelasia.mobi? We’ll put that into an auction."
There’s plenty of mileage in the dotMobi debate, but whatever you think of the subject, it can’t be denied that companies are buying the .mobi domains, whatever their reasons. It’s unsurprising, then, that Edwards comes back to the critics.
"They’re not happy because .mobi has proven overnight that we went from having no customers to having 120,000 customers embracing the open standards," he says. "You also can’t argue with the fact that 13 mobile companies [dotMobi’s investors] who are adamant competitors, came together to solve a problem, rather than developing their own standards. That’s how we should be judged."