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My .US Story - How a .US Ad in a 2002 Computer Magazine Changed My Life

By Ron Jackson

In May of 2002 I was at a key crossroad  in my life. I was coming to the end of what was already my second career and had no idea which direction I should go next. After spending my first 20 years in the job force as a broadcaster (the first four in radio as a DJ and newscaster and the next 17 as a TV reporter in Florida), I had a nice 12-year run in the music world. In 1988 I had opened what would be the first in a string of record and CD stores in Tampa but the twin nuclear blasts of music streaming on the Internet and CD burning wiped the stores out in 2000. The same thing happened to the great chain stores like Tower Records, Sam Goody's and many others, so I wasn't the Lone Ranger, but that didn't make it any less painful.  

ADN Editor Ron Jackson

Inside my last Rock Island record store in Tampa, Florida in 2000 - the year it closed.

I tried to limp along as an online-only music retailer for a couple of years but by the spring of 2002 the writing was clearly on the wall and I was going to have to start over from scratch. The only thing I knew was that my next venture had to be on the Internet. The web was blowing up one traditional industry after another and I had no interest in getting hit by another cruise missile. The question was, what could I do? 

A 1990 issue of Goldmine Magazine

I did know that the web offered some tremendous advantages over brick and mortar. A lot of my music business comprised of selling collectibles by mail order. In the 80s and 90s, there was a national  collector's magazine called Goldmine and I spent a lot of money taking full page ads in it. In 1997, when the web was really starting to gain traction, I put up my first website, building  MusicParadise.com for the business (the store, as you saw above, was actually called Rock Island.  I'll get to the reason for that disparity in a moment). With the website I found I could save an enormous amount of money by cutting my full page magazine ads to 1/16th of a page that directed people to the website. There I could list as many items as I wanted and show them in full color. In the magazine I was limited to black and white text listings and very short descriptions. There was no comparison.

Doing that helped keep us alive for a few more years but it couldn't prevent the inevitable collapse. Records had fallen out of favor and CDs were never as big with collectors as vinyl was (indeed vinyl has made a comeback in recent years that I never would have predicted). When I closed the last store the domain name was about the only valuable asset left (after I learned about domains and domain monetization, there was a long stretch of time when I was earning over $100 a day from just the residual traffic to MusicParadise.com - but that is getting ahead of the story). 

One thing I remembered about getting my first domain name in 1997 was how annoying it was to find it was already taken! We were Rock Island but a financial firm of the same name already had the .com domain and that was when there were virtually no other options other than .net and .org. It way before the first "new" TLDs arrived (.info and .biz) and I couldn't even consider my own country code extension, .US, because it was reserved for 

government, schools and a few other special uses. I was fortunate to have one way out though. Our logo said "Rock Island - A Music Collector's Paradise". So, I checked MusicParadise.com and it was available - hooray! After we closed the brick and motor we also switched our business to Music Paradise to match the domain. 

So, there I was in the spring of 2002, knowing I needed to do something new on the Internet and that getting the exact .com domain I might want was getting harder every day. I didn't have much to go on when the latest issue of PC World magazine arrived in my mail box. I had grown to really love computers for how much easier they made everything in my life, from running a business to near instant communications through email and starting building my own. Still, the thing that really caught my eye when I opened the cover was a full page ad placed by Neustar who was then the  administrator of the .US TLD (GoDaddy wound up buying Neustar last year and a subsidiary of the company administers it now).

The ad was placed to alert Americans to a major change - .US had officially been opened up to all U.S. citizens as well as anyone who did business in America. Not only that, second-level registrations were available 

for the first time. In domain names, the extension is the first, or top, level (hence the term TLD for top level domain). The second level is the word(s) or characters before the dot. For example MusicParadise is the second level in my MusicParadise.com domain. Prior to April 2002 .US domain could only be registered at the 4th level - which add more dots and some VERY long domain names)! 

At that time. .US had a very specific naming hierarchy that started with the registrant's.name, then a dot, a locality name (like a city or a county, then a dot, a state abbreviation, then a dot, and finally the top level - .us! Whew!  Talk about a mouthful and an impossible to remember domain name. I live in Hillsborough County (Tampa), Florida and i remember that in those days the sheriff's derpartment has a web address that stretched across the back of the car! I don't remember it exactly (no surprise there) but it was something like www.sheriff.hillsborough.fl.us. It was like, "Hey citizens! If you need us don't even bother trying to contact us through the web!"

.US was launched in 1985 but did not get out of that straightjacket until 2002 - 17 years later. Is it any wonder that .com, with a huge head start built through all of those years when the hamstrung American ccTLD couldn't compete, became the dominant extension? That's no knock on .com, it's just the way the cards were dealt. .Com went on to become the standard and a truly great TLD that justifiably commands high aftermarket prices for any top quality term in the extension.  It's only potential drawback is its own popularity. With over 155 million of them now taken, if you need a specific word, popular term or short-acronym it will be taken in .com and carry either a significant price or a not for sale at any price sign.

Given my own experience of having to settle for a business name other than my own in 1997, you can see why this huge change at the .US registry in 2002 caught my attention. .US domains were very affordable with stable renewal prices (just as they are today), since it was just opened to all, a lot of good names would be readily available and the TLD was the official domain extension of the United States of America. I still did not know what business i might go into but I decided I should go ahead an get some of these domains in areas where I had an interest. Then 

I would have a pool of suitable options to choose from when the time came to move. The idea of reselling any of those domains never once crossed my mind. I had no idea that the "domain business" was a thing. I couldn't envision how a domain could be worth anything more than the registration fee unless it already had something built on it. I soon learned how wrong I was though.

As I started registering a few .US domain, primarily in the fields where I had the most experience, media and music, I started Googling terms like "domain names" to try to get some more ideas for a business. One of those searches took me to DNForum.com in mid 2002. At that time, that is where just about all of those involved in the nascent "domain investment" field hung out. I started reading the posts and couldn't believe what I was seeing. These people were actually buying and selling the domain names alone. I thought, "You can really do that?...and there are buyers for them?". The answers were yes and a qualified yes. There were buyers for them but only if they were good domains. Coming to understand what a good domain is was the hard  part!

As a journalist with a good command of words and language, I thought I might have died and gone to heaven - could any business be more tailor made for me? If it had only been that easy. It took a couple of years with a lot of trial and error, throwing things against the wall to see what stuck (not much of what I bought did in the early days). Eventually I did acquire a grasp of the 

finer details - what kinds of category-defining names a business would seek, why are short acronyms so popular (brevity is important on the web - short names are more memorable and they prevent a lot of typos - it's why American Domain Names is built on ADN.US. I also have AmericanDomainNames.us but it redirects to ADN.US in case anyone does type in the whole thing. You also have to learn where you can get domains at the best prices, where you can sell them to end users and so much more that is beyond the scope of this article.

In my quest to learn more about the business, I tried to find more resources, especially a trade magazine about the domain industry. None existed so, again as a journalist, I decided I'll start one myself then - and that's what I did on New Year's Day  2003 when I launched DNJournal.com. Over 18 years later it is still going strong. While I have maintained my interest in .US to this day, I never wrote a lot about the TLD in DNJ because I saw it as a potential conflict of interest in a publication meant for the entire industry. Still, in the back of mind, I thought some day I need to find some way to do something for .US because I never would have found this industry without our country's TLD planting the seed that led me to invest in domains (mostly .com, .org and .us  for me - but that is a personal choice for every investor). I would not have started DNJournal.com which has taken me all over the world, allowed me to meet an incredible array of amazing people and given me the freedom to do pretty much anything I want to do in life. The domain business has paid for cars, houses, college educations, vacations and on and on. How could I not be grateful for the introduction .US gave me to all of that?

Now, don't get me wrong. I didn't get any of my domains for free and I have bought and sold thousands of .US domains over the past 20 years. I have often mused about how much money the .US registry made from me alone - just one person - from that one magazine ad (I never saw another). I have all of the records and the number is in six figures. When they say it pays to advertise, I am exhibit number one! So I guess you could say I don't owe .US anything. Those investments have provided a modest but profitable revenue stream that has become stronger than ever over the past year (my guess is the pandemic induced stampede to Zoom.us helped .US recognition and the rush by businesses to get online is also boosting business for many TLDs). I still think the entirety of how the domain industry has 

Image from Bigstock

changed my life leaves me owing .US something more. Of course, this site makes business sense for me too. If ADN, or anything else, helps boost .US recognition and utilization my holdings increase in value.

So here we are! After 19 years, I finally arrived at American Domains Names as a possible way to help a TLD and community that has helped me so much along the way. With so many other TLDs booming today and business demand for an online presence zooming off the charts, .US should have a share of the market that is more commensurate with its global peers. This site may not even move the needle, but it finally fulfills a promise I made to myself. It also reminds me that it took 19 years to fulfill that promise, so I probably shouldn't make any more!

Posted July 4, 2021. Permalink for this story:
 
https://www.adn.us/profiles/2021/my-us-story-ron-jackson-0704.htm 

 

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