March 15, 1985, might not be a date etched in your memory (if, indeed, you were even alive), but that was when the first .com (“dot com”) domain name was born — 32 years ago this weekend, as it happens.
A computer manufacturer called Symbolics registered Symbolics.com at a time when it quite literally had the choice of any word or name on the planet to procure for its domain. But given the company’s name, well, Symbolics.com made the most sense.
Today, that name is still registered and active, making it officially the oldest .com on the Internet, though it was bought by a small investment group called XF.comin 2009, and the portal now offers “unique and interesting facts pertaining to business and Internet history,” according to the site’s About us page.
While “dot com” eventually became synonymous with the Internet, lending its name to a bubble that ultimately crushed the hopes and dreams of many in Silicon Valley and beyond, in the early days, when the World Wide Web was a mere twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee‘s eye, the dot-com domain took a while to take off.
By 1987, only 100 domains had been registered, a process that was at that time administered by the U.S. Department of Defense. Of that first batch, however, many were procured by well-known brands today — there was Xerox.com (January 9, 1986), HP.com (March 3, 1986), IBM.com (March 19, 1986), Intel.com (March 25, 1986), Adobe.com (November 17, 1986), and Apple.com (February 19, 1987).
1990 was a key year for the Internet, as this was when the World Wide Web came to life out of a room at CERN in Switzerland — it was this that gave the Internet a proper usable interface. Up to that point, the Internet could be used for communicating in boring old text, but with the web, this brought in sounds, pictures, and general prettiness — a user-focused interface, or “user interface.”
In the 25 years since then, many milestone dot-com moments have taken place — Microsoft.com (1993), AOL.com (1995), Amazon.com (1995), eBay.com (1995), Google.com (1997), Facebook.com (2004, as “thefacebook.com”), YouTube.com (2005), and Twitter.com (2006).
In 2000, Verisign acquired Network Solutions, a company that had taken on the role of .com operator (among other domains), at which point there were more than 20 million .com domains registered. Verisign remains the official .com operating body, and will retain authority over it until at least 2018.
Today, in 2015, a .com domain is registered every second, and at the last count there was almost 117 million .com domains registered, up from 91 million five years ago.
While .com domains remain as popular as ever, finding one that isn’t a ludicrous combination of letters, numbers, or compound words is difficult. This is partly why other top-level domains have cropped up over the years, including .net and .org, while local countries have their very own domains, such as .co.uk in the U.K. or .de in Germany. But the world wants more top-level domains, which is why the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has opened up applications for more locally focused ones such as .NYC for New York-based firms, or .dev for developers (though Google might have something to say about that).
While we will start seeing many more weird and wonderful domains hit the Internet in the coming years, .com will always stand out among them all — it was the original, it was what most of the big online companies were founded on, and it’s what 100 percent of Fortune 500 companies have in their website address today.
Importantly, it’s also what many startups still strive for when setting up shop on the web.