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April 03, 2014

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Spreading the News: How a Home Grown Media Corps Helped Trigger a Boom in the Domain Business

By Ron Jackson 

 

Spreading the News - The domain industry's
media outlets have played a key role in the
growth of this business.

Over the years we have written stories about every key sector in the domain industry, running the gamut from parking to aftermarket sales to development to geodomains and ccTLDs to domain conferences to conglomerates that do it all. If you're new to DN Journal you can catch up on those articles, as well as the dozens of profiles we have done on successful individual domain entrepreneurs, in our Cover Story Archive. That section has all of the more than 75 monthly Cover Stories we have published since starting the tradition at the beginning of 2003.  

There is however one sector that we have never featured in a DN Journal Cover Story and that, ironically, is the very one we operate in - domain industry news media. Some would argue that this is not a key sector. It certainly pales in comparison to the kind of money generated in the other categories noted in the opening paragraph above. However, even though the domain media sector is not a

financial powerhouse it is a spectacularly fast growing category that has been a catalyst for the economic growth we've seen in the industry at large. It just happens that the value of the media sector is based on a different currency than the others - information instead of income.

There is an old saying that knowledge is power. The information and how-to tips provided by the dozens of industry blogs, forums, print and online publications, podcasts and video productions have provided the tools that have helped many newcomers learn about and flourish in this business. I don't believe the growth we have seen in this space since the .dotcom bust of 2000 would have ever reached the level it has if such a media corps had not grown up around the industry. The constant flow of readily available  information has attracted the new blood, capital investors, developers and end users who have made the domain business one of the most exciting corners of the Internet to operate in (a status it retains despite the current global economic recession). 

It wasn't always that way. In fact it was a dramatically different world when I entered the domain business in May of 2002 with an interest in acquiring and monetizing and developing domain names (it would be another six months before the idea that became DN Journal would even cross my mind). In the spring of 2002 there were very few sources of reliable information for a newcomer like me to draw on. 

There were no blogs and very few sites of any kind devoted entirely to domains. I had heard that  iGoldRush.com (created by Edwin Hayward in 1996) had been a good early source
of information before Hayward sold it, but it was not being updated much by 2002.  I did however come across one site, Lee Hodgson's DomainGuru.com, which at that time was an information rich resource that played a major role in fueling my own interest in domain names. 

In fact most of Hodgson's contemporaries felt he shared way too much information, such as the exact times the domain drops occurred. That horrified the small group of established players who knew they were onto something good and didn't like the idea of someone shouting to the rest of the world the equivalent of, "Hey people, look over here, there's free money laying around everywhere!"  For people still in acquisition mode that is what you call unwanted attention. It did however help draw me and I'm sure many other newbies into the business full time.

Even more helpful in that first year was a new site called DNForum.com that had just recently been started by Virginia teenager Dan Gessler (Gessler would soon sell the forum to domain veteran Greg Ricks who in turn sold it to the current owner, Adam Dicker). There had been a major domain forum at the original Afternic.com before I arrived on the scene, but that one had gone dark after the dotcom bust, leaving the door open for Gessler's new public forum. A long standing private forum run by Rick Schwartz was also active at this time but membership was by invitation only and it would be over two years before I would meet Rick for the first time.

DNForum would become an invaluable resource for learning the ropes and making friends with others who had also been bitten by the domain bug. It was a place where you could get 

Domain forums were the primary
media platforms in the early days and 
they still play an important role today. 

answers to your many questions, get feedback on your ideas and even sell some of the domains you had acquired.

The explosion we've seen in the domain media sector really started at DNForum. The site's three original moderators, Paul Cotton, Paul Shaw and Matt Purtell soon left to establish their own forum at DomainState.com. Not long after, another DNForum alumnus, Ron James, started still another forum at NamePros.com. All three are still going strong today and they have since been joined by additional general interest forums as well as special interest boards like ccTLDs.com (devoted to country code domains only) and even forums devoted to a single ccTLD like AcornDomains.co.uk (UK domains) and Inforum.in (India domains). Other forums are devoted to specific extensions (like Mobility.mobi for .mobi fans) or special interests like IDNs at IDNForums.com

DNForum played a key role in birthing DNJournal.com. After I had gotten the lay of the land and decided (as a lifelong journalist) that this industry should have its own trade magazine I ran a poll at DNForum asking the members there to help me choose a name from among several I had registered (my original favorite was DotBeat.com but fortunately I was outvoted). More importantly, the forum gave me an early built-in audience for my new site. Posting a link there about an article at DN Journal instantly produced a stream of readers. When DomainState and NamePros came online the effect was multiplied. Though time constraints prevent me from being very active on the forums today I'll always be in their debt because this site might never have gotten off the ground if they had not been there providing people with a powerful platform to launch their own endeavors from. 

A little over two years after DNJournal.com debuted on New Year's Day 2003, Andrew Allemann introduced the first domain name blog with daily industry news updates at DomainNameWire.com. This was a new wrinkle that nicely complemented our magazine approach that focused on long form Cover Stories, features and comprehensive sales reports. 

The blog format caught on quickly and spread like wildfire producing the dozens of domain blogs people have to choose from today. The nice thing about blogs is the amazing diversity you can find in that format. There are the broad-based general interest news sites like DomainNameWire and DomainNameNews.com but also dozens of specialty sites that address every conceivable niche within the domain industry. 

Frank Schilling

Perhaps the best thing about the new blog format (fueled by easy to install software platforms like WordPress) was that it attracted a number of industry pioneers who started sharing their expertise and enthusiasm for domains with the rest of the world. The old "omerta" code of silence that prevailed during the early days was shattered once and for all. 

Frank Schilling's blog at SevenMile.com was especially influential in this regard even though it only ran for a year. In addition to being one of the most successful domain investors of all time, Frank is a gifted communicator, allowing him to not only pile invaluable information on a plate, but to present it in layman's terms that made it easy to digest. Having the opportunity to read Frank's daily comments on the domain business was equivalent to a stock market investor getting to have lunch with Warren Buffett every day.

Though demands on his time forced Schilling to give up blogging, industry newcomers can still learn at the feet of people who been there and done that for a decade or longer now. People like Rick LatonaMichael Berkens at TheDomains.com, Michael 

Gilmour at WhizzbangsBlog.com, Sahar Sarid at Conceptualist.com and the "Domain King" himself, T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Co-Founder Rick Schwartz, all write popular blogs today. 

While the old hands utilize the benefit of their experience to range far and wide, others have drawn a crowd by zeroing in on more specific areas. With ElliotsBlog.com, Elliot Silver has done this with frequent posts detailing how he is going about building fully developed websites on his best domains. With PPC rates having cratered in the past year, interest in development is sky high so Silver's how-to tips are exactly what many in today's audience are looking for. Some of Silver's best advice centers on building out geodomains as exemplified by the work he is doing on his own Burbank.com and Lowell.com. Newcomer Bruce Marler is also mining this ground very effectively with details on his development of a statewide network being built on Missouri.me

I mentioned earlier the important role that the industry's media sector plays in bringing new people into the space - people that bring fresh ideas of their own that even the veterans can learn from. Patrick Ruddell has been in the business for barely a year but he made a quick splash with clever innovations and tireless marketing of his blog at ChefPatrick.com. One of 
Patrick's popular features is a weekly video in which he brings in a hired female model/spokeperson to help him deliver a compendium of the week's events in the industry. It's a different approach and it commands attention.

Video was introduced to domain industry media by husband and wife team Marcia Lynn and Warren Walker. The real life commercial TV producers from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina set up a site at DomainerTV.com featuring videos and interviews they shot at various conferences (Marcia is a veteran domainer who was at the very first significant meeting of domain enthusiasts - the 2002 Deanfest in Beverly Hills, California). Unfortunately for our industry, the Walkers have been very busy producing TV programs that air on the Fox TV station in their home town so over the past year or two we haven't seen nearly as much of them at recent industry functions as we would like to. 

Video is playing an increasingly large role 
on domain news and information sites.

Morgan Linton has announced plans to start up a new online TV show to be aired at Domainvestors.tv. Appropriately enough, Patrick Ruddell will be the first guest on his show and Linton is laying out the money to fly Ruddell from his home in Florida to Los Angeles for the taping. While it is certainly possible to start and run a successful blog/media site on a shoestring, a lot of the newcomers are showing a willingness to put their money where their mouths are to make sure they stand out in the crowd. 

While Ruddell and Linton are leveraging the popularity of online video for their media sites, Australian Ed-Keay Smith is doing standout work with audio on his site at OzDomainer.com. Smith has already produced close to 20 free podcasts with each approximately hour-long show featuring a different industry leader or innovator. Smith is a smooth, well-prepared interviewer whose skills make every show a pleasure to listen to.

Moniker Co-Founder Monte Cahn broke 
new ground by hosting the first weekly 
live online radio show about domains - 
Domain Masters
on WebmasterRadio.FM

Smith's work builds on a tradition started by Moniker.com co-founder Monte Cahn with his weekly live internet radio show, Domain Masters on WebmasterRadio.FM. The wide ranging program still runs every Wednesday night and previous programs are available in the show's archive. Since Moniker was acquired by Oversee.net, Monte's expanded corporate duties there no longer leave him time to host the show every week but his long time Moniker cohort Victor Pitts has jumped into the breech and proven himself to be an excellent host in his own right. 

The domain media sector is not limited to just the web either. Despite being a relatively small industry in terms of active participants, the business is served by not just one, but two print magazines; Jerry Nolte's Domainer's Magazine and Modern Domainer Magazine, a publication produced by Parked.com's parent company. DN Journal is not alone in the online magazine space either with Mark Fulton's DotSauce Magazine presenting another attractive choice in that category.

The examples of print, online, audio and video domain industry media outlets that  I've noted in this article is just scratching the surface. The number of outlets and the variety of material they produce is mind boggling when you consider that this sector was almost uninhabited a few short years ago. There are many other sites that are very worthy of your time. If you visit some of those mentioned above you will find that most have a series of links to their favorite sites posted on their home pages. Use those links to explore all of the options and bookmark your own list of favorites. 

News aggregator Domaining.com is also a great place to get acquainted with the wide variety of talented writers, bloggers and interviewers currently covering the domain business (aggregators pull in headlines from a wide variety of sites, with each headline and short summary linking back to the full article at the original site). The domain media explosion has been so powerful that even the aggregation space has multiple options to choose from now with sites like DNHeadlines.com and NameBee.com offering their own variations on the theme.

While most coverage of this industry has been home grown, it has attracted the interest of a handful of extraordinarily perceptive mainstream media members - most notably Paul Sloan (formerly of Business 2.0 Magazine) and David Kesmodel (formerly of the Wall Street Journal). Sloan wrote groundbreaking articles for Business 2.0 that really helped put the domain business on the map. The magazine has since shut down but Paul has just re-surfaced with his own site at PlayingTheAngles.com (done in association with domain veteran David Carter). While Sloan will not be writing exclusively about domains he has already signaled that the industry will be an important part of the mix with an excellent debut interview with Frank Schilling.

David Kesmodel has moved on to cover other corners of the business world, but the publication of his well-researched and written book about the industry, The Domain Game, remains one of the most important reference works available on this business.

Paul Sloan
Former Business 2.0 writer 
is back with his own website - 
PlayingTheAngles.com

Having been a professional journalist for almost all of my own working life, the thing that impresses me most is not how many people are writing about domains now, but the high quality of so many of those sites. For several years now, awards for things like best industry coverage have been handed out at some of the major domain conferences. With the proliferation of domain media outlets the list of nominees, as it should, keeps getting longer. 

At the next major confererence on the show calendar, T.R.A.F.F.I.C. will be handing out a media award at its New York City show October 26-29 with the winner to come from a list of seven nominees; Ron Jackson (DNJournal.com), Michael Berkens (TheDomains.com), Jerry Nolte (Domainer's Magazine), Elliot Silver (Eliot's Blog), Michael Gilmour (WhizzbangsBlog.com), Owen Frager (FragerFactor.com) and Rick Schwartz (for RicksBlog.com - as a T.R.A.F.F.I.C. co-founder, Rick has declined to accept if he wins).

It is always an honor to be nominated for or to win an award from your industry peers. No one is likely to pull a George C. Scott or a Marlon Brando and decline an award if they win (other than Schwartz for the reason noted above), but to a degree I understand where those two actors were coming from when they declined their Oscars. It was their feeling that acting is not 

a competition where one great performance can be deemed better than another. While DN Journal has been fortunate enough to win a number of industry awards, it has always been my feeling that excellence has been demonstrated throughout our sector

Most of us are doing things differently than one another and I could name at least half a dozen that are the best at what they do, or whose audience would consider them the best because they adroitly cover the ground that is of particular interest to their readers. It's kind of like trying to definitively say who was better - Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays or Stan Musial

Just like major league basesball, our sector could field a pretty darn good all-star team - in fact when it comes to recognizing performance, stars might be the best way to do it - five stars for 

excellence, the way they rate the best hotels and restaurants. We have a lot of five-star performers but we also live in a competitive society and people want to see somebody named MVP. That's fine too. It doesn't diminish the accomplishments of the other league leaders (nominated for a particular award or not) whose audience recognizes the outstanding job they have done and casts their votes daily by visiting their favorite sites.

To me, the breadth, depth and quality of coverage devoted to our industry is the best  evidence that, despite the current recession, there is still a great deal of interest in this business and a voracious appetite to learn more about it. It is one of the main reasons that I remain as optimistic about the industry as I have ever been. 

*****


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