Domain Names

Let's say, just hypothetically, that you wanted to learn how to bake a cake. So you go to the bookstore and you have a choice of two books. There's a generic yellow book that is part of a series:

Baking for Dummies

And there's another book that stands by itself... it doesn't look like a part of a series.


If you had no other information, which would you buy?

American audiences, generally, don't trust series. They tend to believe that they want the best baking book, period, not whatever baking book comes in yellow. When they see a shelf full of yellow dummy books, they mostly say, "yeah, a bunch of second-best books."

This is not, by any means, universal... those books sell like hotcakes, even if they are kind of insulting. (I noticed that Personal Finance for Seniors for Dummies is not, in fact, entitled _Personal Finance for Dumb Seniors. _I think that the publisher was a little bit gutless on that one.)

Still, all else being equal, many people's intuition is that series are not best of breed.

In trying to decide how to brand the new Stack Exchange sites that are getting created at Area 51, we had to decide between the "series" model and the "best of breed" model. Should we have dogs.stackexchange.com and cats.stackexchange.com? Or PoochQAndA.com and KittyQueries.com? If everything lives at stackexchange.com, the brand carries across all the sites. So if you had a great experience with motorcycles.stackexchange.com, you might believe that chess.stackexchange.com a good chess site.

Influenced by Ries and Trout, we decided that individually-branded sites felt more authentic and trustworthy. We thought that letting every Stack Exchange site have its own domain name, visual identity, logo, and brand would help the community feel more coherent. After all, nobody wants to say that they live in Housing Block 2938TC. They want to live in Colonial Manor. Never mind the connotation of, well, colonies.

But I digress. We're building best of breed Q&A sites for the new Stack Exchange Network 2.0, and we would rather have a team of individual sites rather than a bunch of subdomains that remind you of nothing more than the chart you saw when you went to the library that one time in college, with the Dewey Decimal system explained. 100 Philosophy. 200 Religion. 300 Social Sciences. 400 Language and pornographic magazines. BORING.

Thus: each Stack Exchange site is going to have its own top-level domain name, chosen by its community. Good names are hard, but nothing works better than brainstorming with the community to find a good domain name. This is one of the first things that will happen during the three month public beta of each site.

Here's some of my advice on domain names.

  1. Please don't think that it's necessary to use a domain name that reflects something going wrong. We picked the name "Stack Overflow" because it has some meaning for real programmers, not because it reflected a bug or problem. "Super User" is just as good a name. I get depressed by all these suggestions of "BurntChicken.com", "LostYarmulke.com", and "FallenArches.com" (for former owners of McDonald's franchises, of course).
  2. Look for jargon that has meaning to the group of people you want to attract. Insider jargon is the duck call of insiders. Look at me! If I can say "contributory negligence," I must be a real lawyer!
  3. .coms are a million times better than other TLDs.
  4. A domain name should be readable over the phone. Even on AT&T Wireless. Tricky spellings are always a bad idea. Similarly, dashes reek of desperation.
  5. Long names are not the end of the world. Using two or three words (or a couple of digits) is a good way to find available domains.

If you have an idea for a domain that's not yet registered, contact Robert, our community coordinator... if he deems the name to be non-awful, he'll register it before someone snaps it up. If the name is registered but is being "squatted," i.e., there's something there, it's just not anything worthwhile, ask the owner if they would sell. If it's available for a reasonable amount of money, and it's a great name, and the community loves it, we may even be able to buy it.

In any case, the best way to get a good name is to brainstorm. That means that you want to throw out as many ideas as you possibly can... don't hold anything back, no matter how stupid, because your stupid idea may trigger a great idea in someone else's head.

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