High stakes domain gamble

An insignificant investment with a potentially huge pay-out. Such gambles do not cross you path very often. But that’s what is was, a gamble, I knew it. Odds were stacked against me, yet I could not resist. Let me tell you what I stumbled across while researching URL shortening services and one-character internet domains, and how it panned out.


On social media, especially on Twitter, the length of your message can be very important. If you want to share a link, you have every reason to make the URL use as little characters as possible. URL shortening services such as bit.ly, goo.gl, ow.ly, t.co, TinyURL, tr.im and su.pr assist you doing that. The downside is that they gather data from your clicks, or even add some kind of banner. As I like to keep my data myself, I was looking into how to set up my own URL shortening system. YOURLS is an open-source system that allows setting such a service on your dedicated server/hosting.

For URL shortening you obviously need a very short URL, which is how I came into the realm of single-character domains. Internet domains that consist of just one letter/number are scarse: just 36 potentially exist for every TLD. In reality, a lot less are available, as most TLD’s only allow domain name registrations from two characters and up, some don’t even allow combinations that only consist of numbers. For .com, for example, only three one-character domains were ever allowed. Z.com was sold in 2014 for 6.8 million USD. Yes, million. What Twitter payed for t.co is unknown, but e.co (with the lesser desirable .co domain) was auctioned for 81,000 USD. There is clearly value there.

Just for fun, I decided to use Neostrada’s domain cearch tool. On my first try I unexpectedly struck gold. Everything was taken, except for a.nl, which was available for just € 2.95. Could that be correct? It seemed unlikely. The .nl terms and conditions indicate that a minimum of 2 characters are required. Then again, so do the .be tems. Hmmm, what to do?

Could the rules have changed? For .fr domains they did change fairly recently (2015), and single-character is possible. Like with all new domain options, new possibilities are released in three phases: sunrise, landrush and general availability. In the first phase, you need to be a trademark holder and pay a premium of EUR 300. In the second, the price of registration can amount up to EUR 15,000. 

This was swiftly becoming a much bigger risk. However, I could not find any mention of sunrise or landrush periods, and the price was clearly indicated as EUR 2.95. In the EU all online purchases are subject to a cooling-off period of 14 calendar days, so I decided to take the gamble with one domain and have the other 25 letters ready for purchase (to the right in the screenshot). After confirming the purchase, I immediately send an email to Neostrada to ask for confirmation.

It took several hours to get a reponse back. Sadly, two characters remain the minimum. The availability was due to an error. The cost of EUR 2.95 would be reimbursed. Darn.

Some might label me naive, and I admit it was a long shot. But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

At least we all learned something we might put to good use, one day. Right?

On to the next adventure 🙂




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