The mobile top-level domain .mobi this week snagged its second-most lucrative sale ever as Infomedia bought Casino.mobi for a hefty $135,000. But the company behind the online suffix shouldn’t hold its breath for more big-time payouts for rights to mobile-exclusive web sites.
mTLD’s dotMobi, the Dublin-based company driving what’s left of the .mobi movement, has had its share of successes: The company famously sold Flowers.mobi for $200,000 three years ago; other premium .mobi sales include Porn.mobi ($110,000 in 2008), Fun.mobi ($100,000 in 2007), RealEstate.mobi ($85,000 in 2007) and Tickets.mobi ($60,000 in 2008). Even more impressively, the company has built an impressive list of backers of industry heavyweights such as Ericsson, Google, the GSM Association, Nokia, T-Mobile, Visa and Vodafone.
But the strong alliances — which, for the most part, were cobbled together in dotMobi’s early days — were likely built on fear more than hope. Many companies, worried about being left behind as traffic on the mobile web ramped up, hedged their bets by investing in the top-level domain on the off chance it took off.
The sale of Casino.mobi notwithstanding, it seems the mobile domain movement has lost much of whatever momentum it once had. During the most recent TRAFFIC show Moniker Auction — a regular industry event where URLs are up for bid — the most expensive .mobi domain sold went for a mere $1,000, according to TheDomains.com. A quick check of Flowers.mobi reveals the site is a lifeless billboard featuring little more than five sponsored links to other online sites, all of which use .com rather than .mobi. Most of the other top-selling URLs are just slightly more usable, with only Porn.mobi — believe it or not — presenting a fresh (if predictably graphic) site built for mobile use. The lack of traction has led some users of tech chat forums to question what might happen if the entire registry were to be shut down.
That’s not to say that dotMobi hasn’t done some good work. The company offers a free testing tool called Ready.mobi that analyzes the mobile friendliness of web sites, helping site owners build more effective destinations for wireless web users, and its DeviceAtlas helps publishers deliver content customized for specific handset models. And I applaud dotMobi’s work with the W3C Mobile Web Initiative to create best-practices guidelines for online publishers.
But a .mobi suffix — which is, after all, mTLD’s core value proposition — is simply unnecessary, and perhaps even confusing to consumers. High-end devices like the iPhone effectively present the larger Internet on a smaller platform, and browsers such as Opera Mini do a good job of formatting online content for less-sophisticated phones. And publishers always have the option of redirecting users to mobile-specific sites, making the idea of an exclusive suffix to flag such destinations for consumers obsolete.
.mobi backers will surely point to the sale of Casino.mobi as evidence that demand for a mobile-exclusive domain is as high as ever among online publishers. But it has become increasingly obvious that the real need for .mobi is nonexistent.