There has been increased public debate about the various approaches to domain development. As a category, Minisites in particular, took a drubbing this week. Part of the problem here is self-inflicted. A quick search on Google for the term “minisites” reveals a litany of get rich quick schemes when in reality developing worthwhile and differentiated user experiences is actually hard work.
I have been working full-time on domain development projects for the past 2 years. My first real exposure was the opportunity to work with the Healthcare.com team as the Founding Chairman. A few months later, I had the opportunity to co-found Patents.com and Alerts.com, as part of my role as investor and advisor to Internet Real Estate Group. Around the same time, in late 2007, I became the first outside investor in what is known today as DevHub.com. I was then, and remain today, a big believer in the idea of “domains as an asset class” and that domains are “the raw land of the internet” .
In early 2009, I came to the conclusion that there was an opportunity to do domain development on a much larger scale. This conclusion was partly informed by my ongoing interaction with a number of domainers who had significant portfolios and had either been unsuccessful in their own domain developments, or were reluctant to take the plunge because they lacked the requisite development skills. I also was astounded by the success of Demand Media in attracting vast amounts of institutional private equity with which to fund acquisitions and what Richard Rosenblatt refers to as Mixology.
With regards to minisites, my conclusion is that in the vast majority of cases the economics simply don’t work unless it is being done with the specific plan of taking a new site to the next level, and in the very near future. It can be viewed as a kick-start while more comprehensive development is being completed. Unfortunately, most minisites are not produced within the context of a forward-looking vision for the site. So, instead of jump-starting a novel web property, a domainer might spend $300-1000 to produce a site that will be irrelevant shortly after the day it is launched.
One of the biggest differences in Epik’s approach is that we are focused on (1) creating an interconnected ecosystem, and (2) managing the resulting content using a platform-driven approach.
By ecosystem, I am referring to the notion of mutual interdependence across a federated network of properties. Indeed, the emergence of the semantic web is an enabler for this network, as is the emergence of portable identity. There is also a tremendous amount of content and intellectual property available for cost-effective licensing. Yet with all this abundance, there is still a need for an intuitive navigation framework. Domains have an important role here.
By platform-driven, I am referring to software that allows best practices to be systematically deployed across a plurality of sites. For example, Tanning.com, Karate.com, Park.com, and Haircare.com all share a common codebase. In the coming weeks we’ll release Hobbies.com, Clothing.com, Dive.com, and Bookstore.com, all using this unified architecture. Moreover, by using a platform approach, we can cross-link these vertical directories to a network of local geo domains thereby creating an intersection of vertical subject matter with local interest. We are building more platforms.
So, my advice to domainers is not to bother with minisites. You will more than likely not recoup your investment. Instead, figure out ways to occupy what I call “chokepoints on the ecosystem”, which is to say to occupy nodes in the network so that as the network takes form, your domains are positioned for long-term relevance. If you have not submitted your domains to the Epik network, I encourage you to do so soon. Worst-case, you will get free content and free advice on how to add value to your undeveloped domains.