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

News Analysis: Like stock symbols on the world's financial markets, .com domain names come and go. They rise to prominence on the fortunes and aspirations of companies great and small. Some of them become the Web identities of rich and powerful companies that live on as household names such as IBM, Apple, HP, and Google. But many once instantly recognizable names have since faded or disappeared from the Web altogether through buyouts and business failures. Here is a look at the fate of some of the oldest and most respected names to appear on the Internet since the first .com name was registered in March 1985.

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.

John Pallatto

John Pallatto

John Pallatto has been editor in chief of QuinStreet Inc.'s since October 2012. He has more than 40 years of experience as a professional journalist working at a daily newspaper and...