History of .com
Dot com may be the most popular of those three little fragments that helped reshape the world, but the first registered name occurred without fanfare. A computer manufacturer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts called Symbolics, Inc. was the first to stake a claim in .com on March 15, 1985. What followed was hardly a gold rush: that year only five other companies signed up a name.
At the time, the Internet was largely a project for computer scientists and universities who wanted a way to communicate. As more and more people and institutions discovered the growing network that was set up by the Defense Department, it became increasingly shabby place. Stories about the difficulty of sending an email pepper the early history of the Internet. One of the challenging things in the 1980s was getting mail from one network to another. Figuring out how to manually route through gateways was something of a black art -- and often not officially sanctioned. As mail loads got heavier, sometimes postmasters would ask for people to stop using their connections.
The Birth of .com
The need for some sort of organizing principles became more and more apparent as more entities connected into the fledgling Internet. Bringing order to the increasingly chaotic universe fell to the legendary Jon Postel and his colleagues at the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute.
Postel who was called the "King" of the Internet became the request for comment (RFC) editor in 1969. As RFC editor, Postel and his colleagues personally shaped the Internet as we know it today. In October 1984, RFC 920 "on the requirements of establishing a new domain in the ARPA-Internet and the DARPA research community" was published, setting the stage for the birth of .com.
While we know that the first .com was assigned to symbolics.com on March 15, 1985, the genesis of .com is less clear. According to Craig Partridge, chief scientist at Raytheon BBN Technologies, the name for domains evolved as the system was created. At first, .cor was proposed as the domain for corporations, but when the final version came out it was switched to .com. Likewise, .org was originally .pub and .mil was originally .ddn. Other domains that came into being at the same time as .com were .edu, .gov, .net and .arpa.
Jack Haverty, another Internet pioneer who was at MIT at the time, said they weren't really thinking about business when they were developing the top-level domains. "I think .com originally was derived from "company" rather than "commercial." The. com's weren't thought of as "businesses" in the sense of places that consumers go to buy things," he wrote in an email. "They were companies doing government contract work. The Internet was not chartered to interconnect businesses - it was a military command-and-control prototype network, being built by educational, governmental, and contractors."
Since most of the Internet's pioneers were involved in educational institutions, the military and government, it would explain why the other top-level domains seem more intuitive. Since what would become the Internet wasn't set up to do business, and the profit-motive wasn't officially sanctioned, Internet pioneers wouldn't naturally think about a .biz or something else. Still, they seemed to understand that some kind of commerce was coming.
The .com Bubble
But to say that .com took some time to take off is an understatement. Two and a half years after the first registration, only 100 total .com domains existed. Among the early adopters included IBM, Intel, AT&T and Cisco. By 1992, there were still less than 15,000 .com domains registered and the million-domain mark wasn't crossed until 1997, well into the Internet boom. Then came the ".com boom", with nearly 20 million names registered in the next two years. It also ushered in something termed "cybersquatting," where domains of famous people or companies were registered in hopes of getting a hefty sum to sell it. Nations implemented laws to combat cybersquatting, and the entertainer Madonna won a notable case in 2000 to get control of madonna.com.
The burst of the ".com bubble" cooled off the rapid growth for a short period, and since then .com has grown at a steady rate, with now more than 80 million domains. Yet, some of the most popular websites today were registered late into the .com era. Youtube.com, for example, wasn't registered until 2005. Twitter.com was also registered after the .com boom.
While Symbolics the company didn't fare well, symbolics.com remains as the oldest .com and was purchased by Aron Meystedt, owner of XF.com in 2009.
Today, .com is an integral part of a technology boom that reshaped the way people work, live, play and connect with family and friends. Much to the amazement of its creators. "I don't recall anybody ever thinking we were creating an organizational structure to encompass hundreds of millions of entities covering the entire planet in support of all human activities," Haverty explained in another email. "And it certainly wasn't supposed to last for 30+ years, even as an experiment. It just happened to turn out that way."