Tracking the Rise of Dot-Com Dominance, Dot-Bomb Implosions

By John Pallatto  |  Posted 2010-03-12

Tracking the Rise of Dot-Com Dominance, Dot-Bomb Implosions

In the 25-year history of the .com domain name, it's often been a case of "the last shall be first and the first shall be last" for many prominent Web URLs.

After the .com domain was created in early 1985, many so-called dot-com companies rose to prominence with great ideas, blockbuster products and hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital funds, only to fail and disappear in a matter of a few years.

The first companies to register their domain names were mostly defense companies that were working on U.S. military contracts, or IT companies that wanted to get an early start on exploring the potential of this new communications technology-or both. That's because in those early days the Internet was still administered by the U.S. Department of Defense, which contracted management of domain names to SRI International.

So it isn't surprising that the top 20 on the list of oldest continuously registered domain names, as published in Wikipedia, were created by IT technology companies such as Intel, IBM, BBN Technologies, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and Xerox. As for the major defense contractors, Northrop, Lockheed and Boeing are still prominent in the top 100.

However, shrinking post-Cold War military hardware budgets have resulted in mergers that given rise to industry powerhouses with double-barreled names such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. Their old single-barreled URLs now drop you on the doorstep of their new incarnations.

For a rundown of some of the biggest dot-com successes and failures, click here.

Curiously, while Apple Computer's domain name is No. 64 on the list and Tandy, the corporate parent of Radio Shack, has No. 49, Microsoft is absent from the list, lending further credence to the long-standing impression that the desktop software giant was slower than many IT companies to respond the challenge and business opportunities presented by the Internet.

Many of these venerable domains have been merged out of existence as independent companies. Some are surviving as mere shadows of their original organizations. No. 5 on the list,, was originally the domain name of Digital Equipment Corp., the once-proud minicomputer manufacturer that saw its market cut to pieces by competition from smaller and cheaper PCs.

When the company failed in the 1990s, portions of its hardware and software business ended up divided between a handful of companies, including Intel and Oracle. Late arrival Compaq bought the company name and other intellectual property, which in turn, ironically, ended up in the hands of DEC competitor HP. Enter the domain name today and you will be whisked off to HP's corporate Website.

Some of the early stalwarts have just recently disappeared as independent companies, including No. 11, owned by once-dominant workstation and server manufacturer Sun Microsystems, which was acquired by Oracle early in 2010 after Sun suffered a long spiraling decline of its business in the wake of the dot-com and IT crashes of 2001.

Computer networking pioneer 3Com, with domain no. 49 on the list, agreed to a $2.7 billion buyout offer from HP in November 2009 after 30 years of existence as an independent company. HP and 3Com are still waiting for final regulatory approval of the deal.

Tracking the Rise of Dot-Com Dominance, Dot-Bomb Implosions

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Yet another famous IT domain name,, the name of a long-defunct minicomputer manufacturer that was once a major competitor of DEC, is now just a shell site on the Web. Its current owner is apparently just waiting for a buyer who might want to turn it back into a working corporate domain.

Even No. 1 on the list,, is just a shell site with the primary mission of advertising its status to prospective investors as the oldest domain name on the Web. As of March 12, the site was running a clock showing there were only two days and 18 hours before the 25th anniversary of the registration of the first .com domain name.

It was originally the domain name of Symbolics, now long defunct, which used to manufacture computers that were optimized to run the LISP programming language. After it got out of the manufacturing business the company continued to sell the Open Genera Lisp System. However, according to Wikipedia, the domain was sold to its current owner, Investments, in August 2009.

What is important to remember is that when the first 100 domain names were created, the Web was not the highly graphical and easily navigated environment familiar to the millions of computer users around the world today. The Internet was still mainly a text-based environment that was used by government agencies, universities, research centers and government contractors to send messages, transmit files and share information.

This was in the very early days of GUIs, which were found mainly on the Apple Macintosh and on expensive and specialized computer workstations. It would be more than five years before Windows 3.0 brought the graphical interface to millions of PC users in the early 1990s. It wouldn't be until the mid-'90s that Netscape Navigator, a graphical browser running mainly on Windows, would give millions of PC users their first opportunity to visit all the new .com URLs that were springing up on the Web.

Netscape went from its founding in March 1994 to an IPO (initial public offering) that was worth $75 per share in August 1995. But in 1995 Microsoft introduced its Internet Explorer browser built into the Windows operating system as just another add-on utility. It was IEr that ended the meteoric rise of Netscape. By the end of 1997 Netscape had stopped growing and by early in 1998 it was laying off employees. Before the end of 1998, another dot-com dynamo, AOL, bought Netscape in a stock swap worth $4.2 billion.

By that time, millions of Web users were switching to IE, which soon forced AOL to decide that it wasn't worth updating the Netscape browser any more.

So where is Netscape's domain name now after spending the first years of its brief life as one of the most popular sites on the Web? The brand name is now a just sub-address buried inside the vast AOL domain.

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