Page last updated at 08:49 GMT, Monday, 15 March 2010

Dotcom web address celebrates silver anniversary

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

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Of the 250m websites, there are over 80m active dot com sites

The internet celebrates a landmark event on the 15 March - the 25th birthday of the day the first dotcom name was registered.

In March 1985, Symbolics computers of Cambridge, Massachusetts entered the history books with an internet address ending in dotcom.

That same year another five companies jumped on a very slow bandwagon.

It took until 1997, well into the internet boom, before the one millionth dotcom was registered.

"This birthday is really significant because what we are celebrating here is the internet and dotcom is a good, well known placeholder for the rest of the internet," said Mark Mclaughlin, chief executive officer of Verisign the company that is responsible for looking after the dotcom domain.

"Who would have guessed 25 years ago where the internet would be today. This really was a groundbreaking event," he said.


For most of the late 1980s and early 1990s hardly anyone knew what a dotcom was.

The need for some sort of organising principles became apparent as more bodies connected into the fledgling internet but there is confusion as to the exact genesis of dotcom.

It is unlikely that the early dotcoms were thought of as businesses as the early internet was not seen as a place for commerce but rather as a platform for governmental and educational bodies to trade ideas.

Scholars generally agree that a turning point was the introduction of the Mosaic web browser that brought mainstream consumers on to the web.


A season of reports exploring the extraordinary power of the internet, including:

Digital giants - top thinkers in the business on the future of the web
Mapping the internet - a visual representation of the spread of the web over the last 20 years
Global Voices - the BBC links up with an online community of bloggers around the world

With 668,000 dotcom sites registered every month, they have become part of the fabric of our lives.

Today people go to dotcom sites to shop, connect with friends, book holidays, be entertained, learn new things and exchange ideas.

"Dotcoms have touched us in a way we could not have imagined," Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) told BBC News.

"It used to be, 10 years ago you could live an okay life if you weren't engaged on a dot com site on a daily basis. You could get what you needed.

"But today we see how dotcoms have enriched our lives that if you are not engaged you would be fine but much further behind than the rest of us."

Proof of that Mr Atkinson said can be seen with how dotcoms have commercialised the internet "bringing consumers choice and value and businesses greater customer reach and profits".

21m domain names registered between 1985 and 2000
57m domain names registered between 2000 and 2010
Source: OECD

A study by the ITIF claims that "the average profitability of companies using the internet increased by 2.7%".

The research also found that the economic benefits equal $1.5 trillion, which it says is "more than the global sales of medicine, investment in renewable energy and government investment in research and development combined".

By 2020 the internet should add $3.8 trillion (£2.5trillion) to the global economy, exceeding the gross domestic product of Germany, it found.

The future

An estimated 1.7 billion people - one quarter of the world's population - now use the internet.

Verisign's Mr McLaughlin only sees that figure growing over the next quarter of a century.

"I think that the way we access information today, mostly still through PCs and laptops is highly likely to change; that the voice will be more important than text input.

"I think the whole fabric of how we access, search, find and get information is going to be radically different."

At the moment Verisign logs 53 billion requests for websites - not just dotcoms - every day, about the same number handled for all of 1995.

"We expect that to grow in 2020 to somewhere between three and four quadrillion," Mr McLaughlin told BBC News.

It is a phenomenal pace of growth that would have been very difficult to predict 25 years ago when a small computer firm took the first pioneering steps into the connected world.

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