|When I got an email from Chicago.com
owner Josh Metnick with a subject line that
said "Something amazing is
happening" I naturally sat up and took
notice. Not only is Josh a giant in the geodomain
space, he is not a guy who is given to hyperbole.
Josh wanted to get on the phone to tell me all about
it and he did indeed have an amazing story to tell -
one that will be music to the ears of owners of top
tier .com domain names - especially (but not
limited to) geodomains.
Metnick accidentally discovered that
individuals and companies were willing to pay far
more than he (or you and I) would have ever dreamed
for memorable email addresses that identify
where they live and do business - in his case Chicago.
As the owner of Chicago.com Metnick found that he
had just what they were looking for.
Metnick shared his discovery with fellow industry
heavyweight Ammar Kubba, the CEO and a
principle in Thought
Convergence, Inc., whose portfolio of
well-known companies includes TrafficZ, Aftermarket.com
and DomainTools.com. Kubba said,
"Josh mentioned some preliminary numbers and
projections, and I thought that he was crazy...but
then we talked some more and I started to see the
light." Kubba decided he wanted in. The two
formed a new company @Identity
LLC, to build a platform enabling
themselves and owners of other premier domains to
tap this promising new source of revenue.
Another long time Metnick friend, and fellow major city
.com domain owner, Sean Miller of NYC.com,
also played a key role, joining Metnick early on to help
develop an automated email sales platform. NYC.com is now
offering the service and the Castello
Brothers are also gearing up to offer email
addresses at Nashville.com.
Now, as domain veterans know, simply selling email
addresses is nothing new. Other companies were doing
that years ago, but those businesses, like the original
iteration of NetIdentity (who sold email addresses
tied to popular surnames in .com), charged a modest amount
for what was regarded as a "vanity" service. The new
wrinkle that Metnick discovered was that some customers,
especially businesses, would value the right email identity much
higher than would private individuals looking for an
inexpensive vanity address. How much higher? Well, that is
the amazing part of the story.
||Over the years Metnick had issued just
a few email addresses at Chicago.com to employees,
friends or people who assisted in the site's
development. Out of the blue one day last summer, a
man called Metnick and offered him $500 for
an email address that would be his first name @Chicago.com.
As it happens that name was one of the few Metnick
had already handed
|out. Metnick asked the
guy who had the address if he wanted to split the
$500 and sell it. He said no. Metnick relayed the
news to the person who inquired and he upped his
offer to $1,000. But again - the guy with
the address said no!
That might have been that - but it got Metnick thinking
about the importance of email addresses in today's world.
He realized he would never sell his own address at
Chicago.com, one he has used as his universal email identity
for nine years now. So he started actively marketing
Chicago.com email addresses, initially offering new
customers the use of one for $299 a year. To his
amazement a local real estate company ordered eight email
addresses at $299 each - giving him just under $2,400
in his first order.
As this was uncharted territory, Metnick decided
to let the market determine what his rates should be. He
added multiple-year options to his $299 annual base rate,
offering three years for $749, five years for $1,049
or ten years for $1,949. He was shocked when one customer
ordered five addresses for 10-year periods -
an order worth close to $10,000!
Metnick said he raised the prices four more times
before landing at $4,000 for five years. A local
business woman took her first name at Chicago.com for that
price. A male businessman did the same, then a local
entertainment company bit at that price. Metnick knew he was
on to something and needed to build an automated system
and start treating email addresses as identity assets
like domain names are. The beauty of email addresses is that
so many of them can be sold off a single great domain name.
His phenomenal early results showed him just how much some
people loved their city and wanted to cement their
online relationship to it.
reinforces his city's appeal to potential email address
identify with Chicago by commissioning this
spectacular skyline photo for
@Identity's Chicago.com page where buyers can
order email addresses.
Like domains, certain email addresses are in greater
demand than others, so Metnick started using variable
pricing based on scarcity. First names, last names,
commercial keywords, short names, etc. all command more than
less desirable names. Metnick himself is stunned to
have discovered this new means of monetization - one that he
plans to roll out on some of his other domains including Illinois.com
and TelAviv.com. "The answer was right in
front of our face and we never saw it!," he marveled.
|I have to admit I was
shocked myself. How could the value some buyers are
ascribing to email addresses go through the roof
compared to what we have seen paid for them in the
Co-Founder Ammar Kubba
Kubba thinks he knows the answer to
that question. "Technology has come a long,
long way since the early days of vanity email and,
with the proliferation of social media sites like Facebook
and Twitter, the importance of online identity
has risen to new heights," Kubba said.
"In my opinion, the biggest problem with the
early vanity email models was that they were trying to
do too much, and the margins were too thin. How
could a company like NetIdentity possibly compete with
the technology infrastructure of an AOL, Microsoft,
Yahoo! or Google?"
"Our model for @identity is
different. We're not trying to
|control the inbox. We don't want to
control the inbox. We want to manage the identity layer, above
the inbox. We may be similar to a vanity email product,
but we're also so much more (and so much less) than that."
"One of the primary
differentiating factors in our product is that it's truly
portable," Kubba continued. "An @identity email
address is an address that you can keep for life.
We've all used various email providers throughout our
business and personal lives, and, each time we switch, we have
to notify all of our friends, family, and business contacts,
print new business cards, update social profiles, etc. With an
@identity email address, switching email providers is
seamless. We're completely platform agnostic. You can use an
@identity address with pretty much any email platform,
including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, Outlook
and even iPhone and Android messaging systems.
Our technology platform is focused on ease-of-use and
high deliverability, coupled with state-of-the-art spam,
phishing and virus protection."
|Kubba also see a lot of opportunities
and synergies between the @identity product and his
current companies. "Online identities
(Twitter handles, Facebook pages, etc.) are already
being monetized and sold in the aftermarket, so
it's a natural progression that prime email addresses
will follow suit," Kubba said. "At some
point in the not-too-distant future, I can envision
TrafficZ offering @identity widgets to our premium
domain partners, Aftermarket.com creating a dedicated
marketplace for email addresses and DomainTools
logging ownership history of online identities."
says you may eventually see
email addresses joining domain names
in the inventory at Aftermarket.com.
Kubba said, "In
addition to Chicago.com, we will be launching the @identity
product on NewJersey.com, Beer.com, as well as a
handful of killer prime domains owned by our beta partners
(which we will announce soon), with other domains to follow.
There is no shortage of interest from domain owners wanting to
get on the platform... it's just a matter of prioritizing and
managing the launches."
Kubba sees yet another new
opportunity in the @identity model. "We could offer/upsell
a matching sub-domain as an "add on" to the
email address. For example, the buyer of ron @ chicago.com
could also choose to buy ron.chicago.com. There
are definitely challenges with the model, but there are also tremendous
opportunities that probably outweigh the challenges.
The time is ripe for a new way of thinking about online
identity, and this is the space where @identity will play
and, hopefully, thrive," Kubba said.
Miller concurred with Kubba's sub-domain theme, noting
"email@example.com is a great email
address, however that address makes a lot more sense
when you also own the New York City domain name realestate.nyc.com.
We call these "Prime Names" and our system
flags them as such. These are not available for
general registration and must be negotiated
Miller is also a
living testament to Kubba's obervation that changes in
technology have completely changed the email address
value proposition. "When Josh came to me last
June, excited about email, my initial response was,
been there done that. In fact, NYC.com's first
business plan (1999) was built entirely
around email as our business model. What we found the
first time around was that although people loved the
email address, competing in a commodity
business was not a very rewarding nor a very
profitable business," Miller said.
Josh and I discussed it further, my thinking quickly
changed. This was for a few reasons:
First was the insight that we could uncouple the
identity (firstname.lastname@example.org) from the service. Email as a
service is a commodity.The identity, however, is a finite
resource in terms of name space. There can be only one email@example.com. Pricing
these identities as discrete assets, rather then as
commodities, allows someone who really wants a particular name
to actually find and purchase the name they want. I know many
executives here in NYC with ridiculous emails like firstname.lastname@example.org.
I mean, these identities may not always be on their corporate
business cards but they use them all the time. And any serious
professional understands image and presentation are important.
A short, memorable, professional email that links you
immediately and indelibly to your city is a killer app
for networking. With @nyc or @chicago, giving out your email
becomes a unique, effortless and impressive branding moment,
not a chore.
|2: Second was the
realization that you can use your city identity with any
email service. This was not possible ten years ago.
Today, however, if you were to buy email@example.com
you can use that email to send and receive from just
about any of your existing email accounts.
|that is with Gmail, Yahoo,
MSN, your internet service provider or even
your company email system they all allow you to
"alias" another email identity and send and
receive from that email. That was really a
lightbulb moment. With @nyc.com or @chicago.com your
online identity is not tied to your job email, your
internet provider, or the email brand of the moment.
If you ever want to change email providers your @nyc
or @chicago email identity travels with you. It
is an identity you own. You don't lose it because you
left your job or hate the new email service your email
provider has imposed on you.
3: Third there is just something in the digital air
right now. Online identity is becoming a critical
piece of the next generation web. For millions of
people in our respective cities, owning an @chicago or
@nyc identity allows you to merge your real world life
with a multitude of online services. We are only
two to three years away from widespread adoption of
online transactions EVERYWHERE. Here in NYC you can
already buy your groceries with your NFC enabled
phone. This kind of pervasive online everywhere life
necessitates a tight integration of online identity
and real world identity. And i don't know about
you, but i just don't feel like i'm a Yahoo, a Gmail,
a Facebook or a Twitter. I'm a New Yorker! Moreover,
I suspect that four hundred years from now New York
City and Chicago will still be here. I'm far less
certain about Facebook, Gmail or Twitter.
New Yorkers an NYC.com
email address makes perfect sense.
Finally, despite twenty years of relentless innovation, email
remains the root identity on the web. Email is central to
everything you do online. Anytime I buy something I am asked
for my email. Even to get my iPod or phone to work properly I
need an email. I begin and end my day with email...even this
interview is being done via email!
added, "An astounding fact: the total number of page
views on the internet equals only 25% of all legitimate
email sent! (source: http://blogs.smartertools.com/2011/08/29/the-value-of-email/).
Simply put, Email, even after discounting the volume
that's spam, is used far more than Facebook and Twitter.
Combined. And when i say far more, i mean by an order
of magnitude. Daily activity on Facebook is currently around 60
million status updates. Twitter sees about 50 million
tweets per day. Email? 188 billion legitimate non-spam messages
daily! For a good infographic on the importance of email
relative to services like Facebook, Twitter and even search on
Bing and Google, see this link: http://smartertools.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/infographic_abs_final.png.
another way, you don't need a Facebook identity to signup for
email. I challenge anyone to do the reverse!"
Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
importance and appeal of attractive email addresses
are starting to show up in still more ways. If you use
Apple's FaceTime video calling feature on the
latest iOS 5.0 software you will see that you
"dial up" your contact through their email
address, rather than a number. It makes sense,
especially when you consider that the reason
domain names were created in the first place was
because words were easier to remember than the numbers
in IP addresses.
you have a premium geodomain or generic domain name,
the obvious question for you is what would be involved
if you wanted to put your domain on this new platform.
Metnick said, "We are only working with a select
group of prime generics at this point, but we plan on
opening up the platform to a broader demographic later
this year. Costs are structured as a setup fee
and a rev share from there." Metnick
said the first order of business will be clearing a a
backlog of around
|200 city .coms that
are already committed to coming onto the platform. Apparently
a lot of people agree with Metnick, Kubba and Miller
that they have stumbled onto to something that could
be really big. Who would have ever guessed that
something might be the simple but unique identifier
that so many of us have been taking for granted for so
long - email addresses.