Dot-Com vs. Dot-Mobi Debate Divides Industry

Big Brands are Backing New Domain, but Others Wonder If It's Necessary

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What's in a name? That's what the mobile-marketing community has wondered ever since Microsoft, Google, Nokia and a host of other brands bet more than a million dollars on the "mobi" moniker.

But while many are backing dot-mobi -- a mobile-specific domain address similar to dot-com that allows people to surf the web via cellphones, smart phones and other mobile devices -- others think the well-ingrained dot-com works just fine, and sticking with it would keep them from having to spend money telling consumers what the heck dot-mobi is in the first place.

"I don't think it's strategic in the long term," said Jean Berberich, head of mobile consumer strategies for Procter & Gamble Co. With dot-mobi, marketers likely would need to add text to their ad copy instructing consumers to use dot-com for PC and dot-mobi for mobile surfing.

Tim Berners-Lee, the man who in 1999 invented the World Wide Web designation, said there's "danger" in the dot-mobi classification. "I believe that all web content should be made, where possible, accessible with small and large devices."

The industry already is poised for rapid growth. Mobile ad revenue will top $1.5 billion by 2010, according to a February report from RBC Capital Markets. But dot-mobi supporters say the designation will allow even better adoption of mobile web by guaranteeing consumers can find websites tailored to mobile's smaller screen and different download speed.

High-profile marketers are backing Dublin, Ireland-based Mobile Top Level Domain, or MTLD, whose CEO, Neil Edwards, said current mobile-phone searches offer a poor experience for consumers. "We will make mobile content available to the masses," he said.

But many dot-com websites, especially from sophisticated web marketers, already detect whether an inquiry is coming from a PC or a mobile device and respond with an appropriately designed web experience. So it's not surprising that a number of companies providing that service for marketers are waging their own PR battle against dot-mobi.

"The onus should not be on brands to go away and spend huge amounts of money to rewrite their websites," Eran Wyler, CEO of InfoGin, an Israeli company that adapts web content for mobile devices, said in a statement. "Mobile operators have a responsibility to their subscribers to make the internet work as it was intended on all mobile devices, because that is what subscribers have been led to believe it would be like."

making it work

Anil Malhorta, VP-marketing for Bango, said the issue is "how to make sure the mobile websites work well. The answer is not new top-level domain names. Brand owners will have to pay for another domain name even if they never intend to use it. Dot-mobi is unnecessary."

Consumers and marketers appear very fond of the dot-com domain name, which continues to dominate worldwide. Out of 85.6 million domain names worldwide at the end of the third quarter of 2005, almost half, 40 million, ended with dot-com, according to VeriSign. Still, Jill McNabb, senior marketing manager, VeriSign, said there has been some increased interest in niche domain names. For example, dot-tv , around since 2000, appears to be growing as the PC becomes more of an entertainment device.

Kanishka Agarwal, VP-new products at Telephia, a San Francisco mobile-research firm, said two difficulties are impeding the growth of the mobile web: quickly searching for content and rendering websites quickly and well on the so-called third screen.

Louis Gump, VP-mobile at the Weather Channel, launched a dot-mobi demonstration site, The Weather Channel uses dot-com in the U.S., dot-fr in France and numerous other designations for other nations, but dot-mobi will eliminate duplication and become a true global designation, Mr. Gump said. While he has been "very pleased" with the dot-mobi test, he said it still hasn't been put through its paces, particularly with volume demand. "The jury is still out," he said.

MTLD's Mr. Edwards said thousands of companies in mobile trade groups already have signed up for dot-mobi designations. Companies with trademarks will register next, followed in August by those who want generic names. MTLD is taking a stepped approach to counter "cyber-squatters" that might try to corner well-known brand names, he said, including charging a premium for registration-$200 and up for dot-mobi compared with $10 for dot-com or dot-net. The steep fee is necessary, Mr. Edwards said, because MTLD will ensure that dot-mobi sites are mobile-friendly. MTLD plans to get its message to marketers and consumers through public relations but also is selecting a media-buying and advertising agency, Mr. Edwards said.

Michael Denning, VP-general manager, digital brand management services, VeriSign, said most marketers don't want to persuade consumers to switch to dot-mobi, and are buying the designation only as a defensive measure. The likely success of dot-mobi, he said, "is not a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination."
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