An Internet address with only three letters and four total characters could bring as much as ten million pounds in an auction freeing up some of the UK’s prime Internet real estate.
The address, X.uk, is currently owned by insurance entrepreneur Simon Burgess. Burgess sold British Insurance, which specialised in payment protection, to Towergate for £25m ($41 million) in 2008. He currently heads British Money Limited, an unemployment insurance provider, but trades in web addresses as a sideline. If it does sell for £10m, that price would rank it among the top ten most expensive addresses online. Sex.com sold for £8.3m ($13.9 million) in 2010 and Insurance.com set the world record at £21.2m ($35.3 million) the same year.
Nominet, the non-profit company that controls the UK’s web address system, decided earlier this year to allow people or companies to expand by not requiring a category name like “.co” before the “.uk” suffix, but its decision to allow .uk addresses was criticised by industry insiders who felt it could devalue the UK’s existing Web real estate and create trademark headaches for their owners. But since Burgess already owned X.co.uk, he had first rights to the X.uk name.
Burgess told UK newspaper The Telegraph that, “We think x.uk is uniquely valuable. A is for aardvark and Z is for Zulu but X can be anything. I’ve already had an offer of more than £5m from a very large organisation, which I turned down.” He also noted that there are only 36 four-character addresses possible when combining 26 letters and 10 numbers. Burgess also informed the Telegraph he had also been approached by Chinese interests about purchasing the address due to the letter X appearing frequently in Latinised Chinese names, and also said he was in advanced negotiations with the online dating service Match.com to sell it to kiss.co.uk.
Paying that much for a one-character Web address may seem a bit strange, but in the age of social media, space means money; Twitter limits each post to 140 characters or less, making each character saved on an Internet address one more for marketing and company branding. Companies like Bit.ly and ls.gd have flourished by shortening Web addresses specifically to deal with social media.
With the naming regulations shifting in the next few years, companies are beginning to look carefully at their Internet address names; major brands and corporations will soon be able to create and use their own Internet suffixes. Google has already announced plans to use Web addresses ending in “.youtube” and “.google”, meaning that more generic names ending in “.uk” or “.com” may not be worth as much in the future.
Currently Nominet has revised its plan so .co.uk owners will have a five-year right of refusal on the equivalent .uk address. It says shorter links will appeal to businesses and consumers, old addresses will still work and it will bring Britain into line with France and Germany’s Internet address system, which offer .fr and .de. Comedian and presenter Stephen Fry was the first Briton to make the switch, telling fans, “”Fret no more, people of Britain. The day of .uk is upon us.”