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Domain Names for Sale - Afternic

Sunny Days for GeoDomains: Our Comprehensive Review of the 2009 GeoDomain Expo in San Diego

By Ron Jackson 

Talk about pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The annual GeoDomain Expo, staged by Associated Cities, has a history of presenting exceptionally high value events despite charging the lowest registration fee of any major domain industry conference. Even so, it looked like it would take a miracle to maintain their lofty standards at the 2009 show that was held at the scenic Catamaran Resort on San Diego's Mission Bay April 23-25.

As we reported in a series of posts in our Lowdown section a little over a month before the conference, AC board members were sending conflicting signals as to whether or not  the show 

would go on as scheduled. The group's focus on their showcase event was being diverted by an internal debate over the future mission and organizational structure of Associated Cities. 

By the time those issues were settled (with an agreement to move to a non-profit  trade association model owned by AC members) and a March 16  announcement was made declaring that the show would go on, AC leaders had only five weeks left to put it together.

View of San Diego's Mission Bay from our
2nd floor room at the Catamaran Resort

An agenda had to be set, speakers secured, programs printed, endless loose ends tied up and, most important of all, any doubts potential attendees had about going forward with their trip in the wake of the uncertainty had to be dispelled. That would be a tall order for the average person to pull off in such a short time frame. Fortunately, AC leadership is not made up of average people. They have proven to be some of the brightest, most resourceful entrepreneurs I have met in any profession and I felt if anyone could get it done, this group could and when all was said and done they did

The San Diego show not only lived up to the standards set in Chicago last year and San Francisco the year before that, it set some standards of its own, especially with respect to the timeliness of the conference theme - how geodomain owners can monetize the historic collapse of traditional media. I have no doubt that most attendees came away from the show with enough fresh ideas on that topic to pay back their conference expenses many times over. 

Now that we have set the stage, let me take you along for the ride as we travel through GeoDomain Expo show week in San Diego. I flew across the U.S. from our home base in Tampa, Florida and arrived at the Catamaran late Wednesday afternoon (April 22). The public Expo wouldn't open until  the following evening, but I wanted to be in town to drop in on some of the 
private sessions reserved for Associated Cities members that are always held the day before the official conference begins. That series of five seminars got under Thursday morning (April 23) and continued throughout the day. 

While we are on the topic of AC members, this is a good time to clear up some confusion about Associated Cities and its Expo. Associated Cities members are all .com city domain owners (for example, the AC roster includes the owners of LosAngeles.com, Chicago.com, Atlanta.com, NewOrleans.com and Nashville.com to name just a few). Because the organization has this tight focus, many think that the GeoDomain Expo shares the same focus. To the contrary, the conference is open to everyone - and more importantly it has something to offer everyone who is interested in developing their domains, regardless of the extension or subject matter. To be sure, the GeoDomain Expo has a tight focus of its own - but that focus is domain development, period.

Scene from one of the Associated Cities 
members only seminars
Thursday (April 23).

You will also find the AC members to be exceptionally friendly and free with their advice on building out domains. They all have a track record of successful domain/business development, so you will not find better tutors anywhere. That is why the show attracted an immediate following that has remained loyal and confident they will get their money's worth from being there. Despite occasional disagreements among its entrepreneurial leaders over the best path forward, the association and its expo are built on an idea that cannot be killed  - working together for the common good so that anyone who wants to grab a piece of the new media world pie is given an opportunity to do that.

Dale Porter on the 2nd floor balcony 
of his oceanfront condo in San Diego

One of the nice things about conferences is that they are always held in attractive locations. On that score, San Diego was certainly a home run and the hosting AC member, Mark Burgess of SanDiego.com, made sure attendees had a chance to enjoy the attractions of one of the world's most beautiful cities. The show venue, the Catamaran, sits on a narrow strip of land that has Mission Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean just a few hundred yards away on the other. 

During the private member sessions I slipped out for a couple of hours to enjoy a stroll down the walkways that run alongside both the ocean and the bay. I headed south to visit veteran domainer Dale Porter (whom many know as Juniper Park on the domain forums). Dale lives in an oceanfront condo just a mile south of the Catamaran where he works from a home office that looks directly down on the beach and a gorgeous view of the Pacific. His biggest problem is dealing with the salt air that can corrode connections in the computers and peripherals scattered around his desk. A small price to pay for being able to spend every day in paradise. 

I was back at the Catamaran in time for the Expo's official opening event, a luau, sponsored by MojoPages, on the hotel's bayfront lawn that got underway at 6pm Thursday. It was a great setting to get together with old friends and meet new ones attending their first GeoDomain Expo.

 Opening night luau on Mission Bay April 23 gets  the 2009 GeoDomain Expo underway.

The first day of business began bright and early Friday morning at 9:15 with welcoming comments from San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, followed by a State of the Industry talk 

delivered by Associated Citiies President Dan Pulcrano (of Boulevards New Media). Pulcrano gave a well balanced speech that covered both the incredible opportunities and the potential hurdles facing geodomain owners as they set about the formidable task of replacing traditional print and broadcast outlets as the dominant force in local media. 

Pulcrano said the job may look daunting but it is definitely doable, noting "The kinds of gains we are seeing after investing time and energy in our sites has been phenomenal." As the owners of more than two dozen major .com city domain names (including LosAngeles.com, SanFrancisco.com, Seattle.com and Dallas.com) and as the publisher of multiple print publications, Pulcrano's company, Boulevards New Media is especially well positioned to see the mind-boggling possibilities as media continue to migrate to the web. Pulcrano said revenue at Boulevards jumped 20% in the first quarter of this year, in stark contrast to the freefall in revenue being experienced by major newspapers.

Associated Cities President Dan Pulcrano 
(Photo courtesy of Dina Scoppettone)

The show's first panel discussion focused on "GeoDomain Nuts & Bolts: Development & Monetization" and featured Elliot Silver (Lowell.com and Burbank.com), Shaun Pilfold (Kelowna.com), Michael Neu (Lahaina.com) and Becky Thielen (Scottsdale.com). Barry Hodge of Boulevards New Media (formerly with Richmond.com) moderated the session. 

Opening seminar at the 2009 GeoDomain Expo Friday morning (April 24)

Neu provided an interesting slide presentation that covered the key steps to take in building a site from scratch as he has done with Lahaina.com. He touched all of the bases including how to determine what you want your site to look like (make sure the graphic theme reflects your community), important decisions you'll need to make in the development  process (outsource or stay in house? Build in social media and ad platforms, etc.), as well as ways to build brand awareness (for example use Facebook and Twitter, SEO and cross promote with local businesses).

I sat on the next panel, "Dailies: They're Gone, Now What?," along with Ron Donoho (SanDiego.com) and Kery Murakami (Seattle Post-Globe). Dan Pulcrano, who is a veteran reporter, editor and publisher moderated. 

Left to right: Ron Jackson, Ron Donoho, Kery Murakami and moderator Dan Pulcrano
discuss "Dailies: They're Gone, Now What?" in a Friday morning seminar.

Murakami was a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the major newspaper that recently shut down its print operations to become an online-only publication. Murakami talked about how he and other displaced Post-Intelligencer staffers are trying to compete with their own full-featured news site at SeattlePostGlobe.org. In effect, Murakami and his friends, wisely I think, made the decision that if you can't beat them (the web) join them. Too many traditional media outlets have not yet come to grips with the fact that they are not going to be able to compete with the Internet as a delivery platform. Those who continue to ignore that fact will continue to be forced out of business.

Donoho and I both spoke in favor of the online magazine model because it can be executed with much smaller expense and staff requirements than a broad based site that tries to stay on top of breaking news in many different categories. We suggested that a team as small as a single reporter and photographer could go into business for themselves covering a specific well chosen niche and be successful at it. With so many general news options to choose from on the web, being the best site about a specific topic might offer a better shot at success than spreading your resources too thin by trying to be everything for everybody.

The lunch break featured an address from Chris Tolles, the CEO of news aggregation and commentary giant Topix, a new media colossus that attracts 10 million monthly visitors. Tolles also worked for four traditional media giants; newspaper publishers Gannett, McClatchy, Knight-Ridder and the Tribune Company, so he is intimately familiar with the current sea change from old media to the new world online.

Tolles said that being "local" is the key to future success - a comment that was obviously music to the ears of the geodomain owners in the audience. "There is a huge opportunity to be the site that ties people together in a community," Tolles said. He added, "Local advertising is going to be the biggest area growth and folks like yourselves are well positioned to get that revenue as traditional media fades." As an example Tolles noted that a ton of local ad money that has been spent on Yellow Pages in the past will be following consumer eyeballs away from giant books that are becoming obsolete and on to the web.

Chris Tolles
CEO, Topix.com

After lunch I moderated a panel devoted to "Newsmakers and Buzz Generators" that included Elliot Silver (ElliotsBlog.com), Andrew Allemann (DomainNameWire.com) and Sean Stafford (who has written for Modern Domainer Magazine). If you want to operate a 

successful blog or news site, one thing we all agreed on was the importance of developing your own unique identity - a "brand" that will make you stand out in a crowd that will only continue to get larger. 

Silver said that his "brand" included publishing a lot of step by step case studies as he goes through the development process with his sites like Lowell.com and Burbank.com. 

Allemann said he made his mark by filling a void by covering daily breaking news in the domain industry as well as taking on the task of producing time consuming investigative pieces that require meticulous research and fact checking before you can go public with them. 

With DN Journal, my plan from day one 

Elliot Silver catching up on his blog 
during a break between sessions.

was to make magazine length profiles of successful entrepreneurs and key events the signature of the publication. One thing I like about that kind of content is that it has "legs" - meaning that it can continue to attract readers and site visitors years after the material was published. The important takeaway from this session was that you need to find your own unique niche or style that will give you a brand of your own on the web.

Databanq CEO David Bayer speaking 
during the Business Directories session.

Next up was a seminar on "Business Directories", one of the most popular tools for monetizing local websites. Those on the dais included David Bayer (Databanq), Scott Paige (New Media Broadcasting), Elaine Screnci (Acxiom), James Chubb (eDirectory) and Jon Carder (MojoPages).

Their companies provide pre-populated local business directories that can help your site become the "authority" for such information. The listings also attract revenue from local advertisers who are moving online and pull in new traffic from search engines that will index the listings. Bayer noted the size of the opportunity for local sites saying that forecasters expect $16 billion in Yellow Pages advertising revenue to move to online listings.

Friday's final seminar addressed "Building the Brand, Extending Your Reach" with comments from panelists Truman Hedding (LosAngeles.com), James Earwicker (CEO, San Diego.com) and Tim Breidigan (Eventful.com). Kyu Kyung (SFStation.com) 

served as the moderator. Hedding provided useful tips on ways to use social networking to inexpensively market your site. He spelled out the advantages of using Facebook Pages and Groups and how to get the most out of Twitter, including ways you may not have thought of such as using the micro blog service to follow what your competition is doing and using an intern to answer questions about your business. Of course Twitter also gives you a free platform to provide information about your business and with its search functions and  interactive capability Hedding said Twitter is essentially a Two-Way version of Google.

Left to right: Truman Hedding, James Earwicker, Tim Breidigan & moderator Kyu Kyung
discuss "Building the Brand and Extending Your Reach" Friday afternoon (April 24).

With the day's business out of the way, attendees gathered for a bountiful buffet dinner that included a visit from Ingrid Croce, the widow of famous singer Jim Croce and a San Diego resident was was instrumental in the development of the city's fabulous entertainment district, the Gaslamp Quarter. Ingrid filled us in on what to expect then we got to see it first hand which we did when double decker tour buses took everyone to Fleetwood, one of the quarter's hottest night clubs, for the official GeoDomain Expo Party that was sponsored by HotelPlanner.com.

Scene from the 2009 GeoDomain Expo Party Friday night (April 24) at Fleetwood in San Diego.

Catching some air on Fleetwood's outdoor patio are (left to right): Sara Mannix (Albany.com), Mark Huttram (Kelowna.com), Associated Cities Co-Founder Josh Metnick (Chicago.com) and Ian Hartten (Toledo.com).

The closing day of the Expo Saturday (April 25) got started with the conference keynote address from noted  futurist/author Dr. David Brin, who also happens to be a San Diego resident. Brin said the day may be coming when bankrupt newspaper will sell their brand name and assets to .com city domain owners - an unthinkable scenario until the traditional media collapse that is playing out before our eyes now began picking up steam.

While other speakers talked about the value of using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to promote yourself and your site, Brin was less enthusiastic about them. As an a prolific writer who has penned close to 30 books, Brin laments the lack of intelligent discourse on the social networking sites. "These things are like lampreys on your neck, sucking out your time, your attention and your lifeblood!" Brin said.

Brin went on to enthrall the audience with predictions about future technological developments. One I particularly liked was a pair of computerized glasses that, using facial recognition technology, would immediately identify everyone you meet and flash their name on the inside of the lens (plus the names of their wife and children) and other useful information about that person. I would buy a pair of those now!

After Brin's talk a panel on "Travel Industry Tips & Tricks" brought everyone back from the future to the present. This panel featured Chad Montgomery (Expedia Affiliate Network),

Dr. David Brin delivering his keynote
speech Saturday morning (April 25).

Bas Perik (Booking.com), Ron Kazmiersky (Advanced Reservation Services) and Jeff Roberts (Kayak.com). The beauty of geodomains is that they are extremely versatile. They can be used as a local news site, city magazine or, as many are used today, as a tourist information site. For the latter purpose the travel industry affiliations and services provided by the companies represented in this session are a godsend.

Borrell Associates CEO Gordon Borrell
during his luncheon talk Saturday

The Saturday lunch break featured an inspiring talk from Borrell Associates CEO Gordon Borrell. His company tracks local advertising trends and Borrell  assured the geodomain owners in attendance that they are perfectly positioned for the massive transition of local ad spending from traditional media outlets to the web.

"The web represents the Holy Grail for small businesses," Borrell said. "It is inexpensive advertising that hits its target - it's exciting and it's new."  Those are extremely valuable attributes when you consider that  $120 billion is spent annually on local advertising."Borrell urged attendees to believe in what they are doing and bet on themselves, "I don't think you are investing enough in what looks like a sure bet with the Internet," Borrell said, adding "Don't think small. Think big and I think you will win big."

After lunch "The Future of GeoDomains and New TLDs" was discussed in one of the show's 

most highly anticipated and interesting panel sessions. The speakers included Internet Commerce Association Legal Counsel Phil Corwin, Jothan Frakes (Minds+Machines) and the Castello Brothers, David and Michael (Castello Cities Internet Network). ICANN's Chief Registrar Liaison Tim Cole served as moderator. 

During the "New TLDs" session, ICA Legal Counsel Phil Corwin (at far left) makes a point 
while fellow panelists Jothan Frakes, David Castello and Michael Castello listen in.

Corwin said ICANN's plan to roll out an unlimited number of new gTLDs starting early next year will come with many risks to current domain owners. Under heavy pressure from trademark interests,  ICANN could change pricing and UDRP policies for the new gTLDs and if that happens the existing extensions will demand the same changes. Those could include implementation of disastrous policies like "differential" pricing - allowing registries to charge whatever renewal/registration fee the registry thinks an individual name is worth). Corwin said it is critical that domain owners pay close attention to the process which he frequently posts about on the ICA website. "Ignorance is not bliss," Corwin said. "When you find out this stuff has been finalized it is too late  to change the game."

Frakes, whose new company, Minds+Machines, provides consulting services for those who plan to apply to operate a new extension said new TLDs are definitely coming so people in the industry need to consider how they can leverage that impending event.

David & Michael Castello

David Castello is hopeful that the tide can still be turned, noting "There is little to zero demand for new extensions and ICANN could be opening a Pandora's Box that they won't be able to control. Unlimited new gTLDs will trigger a trademark violation mania that could come back to bite all of us." 

Michael Castello said he had no problem with a few well chosen new extensions for which there is a demonstrable need but asked, "500 new extensions, where is the need for that? What is the benefit for the greater good of the people? I don't see it."

While there may be little or no

benefit for the man on the street, the plan could create a windfall for ICANN who plans to charge a $180,000 application fee for each new extension. That prompted David Castello to observe, "for a non-profit organization, ICANN is behaving an awful lot like a for profit corporation."

Incidentally, the Castellos are also making their views known inside ICANN as they are members of the DNS governing body's Business Constituency. They are also members of the Internet Commerce Association and urged attendees to support the ICA's efforts on behalf of the domain community. "It costs 80 cents a day to be a member of the ICA," David Castello said, adding "There is no reason for anyone in this room to not be a member of the ICA."

At mid-afternoon the show moved outdoors for a GeoDomain Town Hall meeting in which AC members and attendees could bring up any issues that were on their minds. Associated Cities Executive Director Patrick Carleton presided over the event on the Catamaran lawn, just steps away from the Mission Bay beachfront. 

On a beautiful afternoon in San Diego Associated Cities Executive Director Patrick Carleton 
(at the podium) conducts an outdoor GeoDomain Town Hall meeting.

Everyone stayed in place for the industry's first live outdoor domain auction presented by DomainConsultant.com and Aftermarket.com. The auction, focused on geo related domains, wound up producing just over $100,000 in sales, led by SierraMadre.com at $15,000, TowerOfLondon.com at $10,000 and BrooklynJobs.com at $8,000. After the show ended, an extended online auction produced another $208,844 in sales, raising the the final tally from the Expo's auction catalog to $303,683

Miguel Fiol (DomainConsultant.com) conducts the live domain auction Saturday (April 25). 

Susan Prosser (left) and Ammar Kubba (right) from Aftermarket.com help Fiol keep an 
eye on bidding on the Internet as well as in the house (or should I say on the beach). 

After the auction, attendees continued to enjoy the sunshine and fresh sea breezes during a show closing networking party sponsored by SanDiego.com and Churchill's Cigars that included fine cigars for those so inclined. 

To close the week on a high note for those staying over in San Diego for dinner, Associated Cities helped  organize registrants into small dinner groups that then headed out to their choice of ten top restaurants around the city. Diners were able to look over the options and then sign up for a restaurant serving the kind of cuisine they were in the mood for that night. An AC member led each of the individual groups to their destination and a memorable evening of great food and conversation.  

I signed up for a group attracted to the Northern Italian cuisine at Bella Italia where we had a great night out led by AC's Skip Hoagland and his wife Cathy. A member of our party, Scott Ross, handed his camera over to an obliging waiter who was kind enough to snap the photo for posterity.

At Bella Italia in San Diego Saturday night, April 25 (left to right): George Stockum (WorldRealEstateListings.com), Scott Ross (Promediary.com), Cathy Hoagland
Skip Hoagland
(Domain New Media Inc.), Ron Jackson (DN Journal), 
Colin Pape
and Jim Terry (ShopCity.com).

A lot of people at Associated Cities deserve credit for making this the rewarding show that it was. In talking with AC President Dan Pulcrano and other members of the association during the week, two people that were frequently singled out for praise were AC Executive Director Patrick Carleton (at left in the photo below) and SanDiego.com's Mark Burgess (at right). 


As I flew out of San Diego Sunday morning I couldn't help marveling over how well the GeoDomain Expo had been put together on such short notice. With the luxury of several months of advance preparation time, rather than a few weeks worth - the future potential of this conference is unlimited. They offer unique content that dovetails perfectly with exploding interest in domain development and they can call on a stable of proven and personable entrepreneurs from their nmembership to attract attendees that want to learn the craft from the best the industry has to offer. That is a tough combination to beat.

*****


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