Dropping the ".com"
By Jim Hu
At a time when everybody wants to be a dot-com, InfoSpace is shooing away the distinction.
In a curious turn against the current, InfoSpace said today it will drop the ".com" from its name. The move is part of the company's attempt to revamp its image into a behind-the-scenes player that makes Web sites more compelling, rather than a company that deals directly with Net consumers.
While InfoSpace may be one of the first major companies to rub away its Internet birthmark, it won't be the last. According to some industry observers, the dot-com frenzy will soon go the way of grunge rock--an outdated fad that swept by quickly but left an impression.
"We're quickly coming to a point where we don't need that because the Web is going to be pervasive in our lives," said David Placek, president and founder of Lexicon Branding. The Sausalito, Calif.-based product-naming firm has created a few notable brands, including "Pentium" for Intel and "PowerBook" for Apple Computer.
"Their brand is InfoSpace. The '.com' is just a moniker," he added.
InfoSpace's name change is significant, given the tidal wave of dot-com marketing that has virtually taken over all major media. Net start-ups flush with venture capital or IPO cash are aggressively launching branding campaigns with almost religious zeal. That's because competition is fierce among companies trying to embed themselves as Internet brands into the public consciousness.
One case of dot-com-cluttered airwaves was this year's Super Bowl. Companies such as E*Trade, Britannica.com, Computer.com and Pets.com, among others, all bet heavily on Super Bowl airtime to lure new users to their services.
But InfoSpace chief executive Naveen Jain will have nothing to do with it. The company licenses content feeds and Net communications services, such as email and e-commerce services, to Web sites and access providers. This, along with its focus on the wireless market, places InfoSpace outside of a typical dot-com, according to Jain.
"Dot-com companies are really companies with no business model and no hope of a business model in the future, and we didn't want to associate ourselves with those companies," Jain said in an interview.
Jain further described dot-coms as "those with negative growth revenues or companies that are really shipping money along with their products."
Nevertheless, analysts say the advantages in embracing the dot-com obsession may be selectively beneficial. Start-ups or established offline brands trying to promote their online counterparts will benefit from calling themselves dot-coms.
"If you have a small company, adding '.com' to their name is a way to make them seem bigger and with more upside potential when going to the public market," said Evan Neufeld, an analyst at Jupiter Communications.
But that may not be the case with Internet veterans such as America Online, Yahoo, Amazon.com and eBay, who have largely become known for their identities without needing a ".com" appendage.
"Brands are one of those things that have to be fluid and not encased in stone," Neufeld said. "In many cases, companies may think the '.com' may be a limiting aspect of their brand."
Online user-review site Deja.com, once Deja News, added the label when it overhauled its business and relaunched its site. Company spokeswoman Lisa Lahde said adding ".com" was a way to identify its service as squarely Web-based to new users.
"It saves you from saying, 'Deja--we're a Web site,' " Lahde said.
But the long-term goal for companies such as Deja.com is to create a brand without the moniker. Just like most of the industry's leaders, these companies want to be known as businesses, not just Internet businesses.
That's why the dot-com craze could soon go the way of grunge rock.
"It was just a moment of time where there was a tidal wave of dot-coms, and things are settling down," Lexicon's Placek said of the moniker. "Relying on being a dot-com will soon date you."
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