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The Elusive History of Single-Letter Domains


Jon Postel in 1994 with map of Internet top-level domains
Jon Postel in 1994 with map of Internet top-level domains

When we talk about single-letter domains, chances are they weren't exactly at the top of most people's minds until x.com burst onto the scene. Well, unless you're a real domain nerd, of course. If that's the case, you're probably already deep in the know about the domain underworld.


Single-Letter Domains: Why Do They Matter?

So, let's break it down – a top-level domain is basically the extension of a domain, while the second-level domain is what we see as the name in the URL. Take x.com, for example – "x" is the second-level domain, and ".com" is the top-level domain.


Single-letter domain names come in all sorts of extensions, from .co to .org to .ai – you name it. Some folks have even gone as far as snagging the entire alphabet from "a" to "z" across different extensions. And nope, it's not Amazon playing this game. Others have gotten pretty creative with their picks, like n.pr (a redirect to npr.org), which is a personal favorite among many.


But even with all these options, .com still reigns supreme as the most sought-after top-level domain extension – it's also got the fewest single-letter domains registered to it. As of April 2024, there are only three single-letter .com domains that are live: q.com, x.com, and z.com.


So, How Did We Get Here?

Prior to 1992, only three out of the possible 26 single-letter domains were registered under the prestigious .com extension.


Enter Jon Postel – once referred to as “god of the internet”. Postel was a computer scientist who made significant contributions to the the development of Internet standards. In 1992, Postel registered 23 of the remaining single-letter .com domains, preventing the monopolization of individual letters by any single commercial entity. This subtle maneuver underscored the delicate balance between commerce and stewardship in the evolving landscape of domain ownership.


How Has The Domain Landscape Shifted?

In December 2005, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) floated the idea of auctioning off these elusive single-letter domains. Well, you can imagine – it got folks talking, sparking debates and discussions about what this could mean for domain ownership and accessibility.


Despite all the buzz, some single-letter domains managed to stay put with their original owners over the years. Names like i.net, q.com, and z.com stood strong in this ever-changing digital landscape, each with its own story and significance.


While we've heard of big-name domains like business.com and sex.com making waves in the domain world, there's also a whole world of two-letter domain dealings happening behind the scenes. Think LG Corp's snagging of LG.com or Facebook's sly purchase of FB.com for a cool $8.5 million – these transactions shed light on the growing importance of concise domain names in the digital branding game.


What Lies Ahead?

With whispers in 2005 hinting that registration for these elusive single-letter gems might open up, companies started making moves to secure their rights through trademark claims. Take U magazine, for instance – they boldly rebranded their website as "U.com" and even applied for a trademark.


As we navigate the ever-shifting landscape of the internet, single-letter domains serve as markers of innovation and strategic planning. They're not just pieces of digital real estate – they're glimpses into the future of domain ownership and digital identity. So, who'll come out on top in the single-letter domain quest? Only time will tell as the digital saga continues to unfold.

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