Nothing can cripple a promising web site faster than an embarrassingly bad top-level domain choice. No matter how many businesses sign up for a dot-biz domain (.biz), for example, it still connotes Uncle Gary’s online shoe site. Likewise, top-level domains like dot mobi (.mobi) and dot info (.info) have fallen short in terms of bringing in users. But can an environmentally slanted top-level domain leverage the current attention on all things green to create a winning URL closer?
The founders of Dot Eco hope so, and they are working to get dot eco (.eco) accepted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit Internet naming registry that controls all the top-level domains like dot com. If they’re successful, they plan to offer up dot-eco domains sometime next year to companies like, say, Toyota that want to tout environmental initiatives (toyota.eco), or any web site owner that has green leanings (johnsmith.eco).
The idea was dreamed up by Internet entrepreneurs Fred Krueger (who founded Tagworld) and Clark Landry, as well as Minor Childers, a creative executive and film producer out of Hollywood. Davis Guggenheim, the director of the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” sits on the company’s advisory board.
Co-founder Childers told us in a phone interview that the company has already committed to donating more than 50 percent of its profits to environmental and climate change fighting projects. One of those groups is Al Gore’s The Alliance for Climate Protection, and last week Al Gore announced that he and his organization would actually be working to promote dot eco and helping secure the top level domain with ICANN. For a small outfit like Dot Eco, scoring the world’s most famous climate change spokesperson was a massive coup.
The donation aspect seems likely to bring the project legitimacy and attract web site owners interested in charitable causes. And, if it took off on any scale, it could deliver a lot of money to environmental groups. If just a fraction of web sites registered for dot-eco domains at, say, $50 a year, the company could become “one of the largest contributors to environmental causes,” Childers says.
But that’s assuming that, first, ICANN accepts the application and second, web site owners respond positively and buy up the domains.
When I asked Childers how dot eco would succeed where top-level domains like dot mobi stalled, he said Dot Eco plans to do a massive marketing push, in contrast to some top-level domains that he says weren’t marketed properly. Childers, based in Los Angeles, has been meeting with marketing agencies and working on celebrity endorsements, and he says he expects the company to do an initial $10 million marketing campaign in its first year or two.
The kind of marketing Childers is planning will take considerable funds. To date, Dot Eco is bootstrapped, but Childers says VCs and investors have already contacted the company about opportunities to invest. The company is planning to raise its Series A this year. That funding would likely be large enough to cover the initial $10 million marketing push. Given the company’s partnership with Al Gore, we’re wondering if Kleiner Perkins would be interested — it’s currently invested in green web-related startups like RecycleBank and Verdiem.
Whichever investors fund the idea, Childers is right — domain success can be more about perception than anything else. Dot orgs have managed to gain users as a reputable top-level domain for non-commercial entities, despite the fact that there aren’t restrictions on it like dot gov or dot edu. And unlike a dot mobi, which is supposed to indicate better mobile web access, or dot biz, which just suggests a commercial organization, dot eco is supposed to convey certain values and is in itself a marketing technique. That’s how it could succeed — as yet another way for companies to market themselves as green.
But Dot Eco is also thinking about ways to make its top-level domain more than just marketing. Childers says domain owners might have to adhere to some kind of environmental criteria in order to keep their domain registration; that could help maintain the integrity of the domains. Roy Neel, Al Gore’s chief of staff, says that The Alliance for Climate Protection fully supports filters to make sure dot eco is not exploited. But vetting companies for compliance with environmental criteria seems like it would take a tremendous amount of work, and proposed restrictions could easily be ineffective without oversight.
Managing that process certainly won’t be easy. Picture the controversy over cleancoal.eco.
This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.