Web Wars

Renewal investee, Big Room Inc, were highlighted in the recent Vancouver Magazine.

Web Wars
Rivalry heats up in an unlikely place: at the green end of the Web

Vancouver Magazine
By Anna Killen
Published Dec 1, 2011


Jacob Malthouse, 34, and Trevor Bowden, 38, the founders of Big Room Inc., have a relaxed, confident air—big laughs, strong handshakes. The two met while working for the UN in Switzerland, and sitting now in a coffee shop in their adopted new neighbourhood of Chinatown, they talk about their end goal—the Internet’s new .eco designation—like it’s already theirs.

A regulating body called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN, Malthouse’s former employer) oversees the infrastructure of the Internet, which for years has been organized by a handful of suffixes at the end of every URL you type: the generic .com, the heartwarming .org, various country designations (.ca, .jp), and the dreadful .biz. But starting in 2008, ICANN opened its thinking to a new breed of domain names, and after a few years of study, fussing, and delays, the Internet marketplace is now open.

New names—think .coke, .bmw—will make it easier to verify that the site we are typing is the site we want, and will stop imposters from stealing intellectual property. That’s worth a lot to brands, and the benefits will be measured not just in cash (astute marketers are urging their clients to be prepared for hefty fees—applications start at US$185,000) but in goodwill, too. It’s easy to foresee battles over who owns the rights to certain names; for example, who gets to run .amazon—the bookseller or a tour company in Brazil?

So we’re at the dawn of the dot-brand era, which experts say is going to change our Internet experience significantly. But this is also the advent of the dot-community. And this is what sets Big Room’s current project apart. When Malthouse and Bowden hatched their plan to bid for the newly conceived domain name .eco they decided not to go the commercial route in favour of the more difficult claim—proving they serve the ecological community. Gaining this community status has its perks: these domains are offered to the community in question before they’re auctioned to the highest corporate bidder. So the two (along with a partner in New Haven, Connecticut) started rallying the ecological troops, beginning with local triple-bottom-line investors like Renewal Partners and David Levi. ...

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