‘Dot.coms’ Furnish English Language With German Twist — Short Words Are Now Scarce, So Web Firms Must Use Gigantic, Ungainly Names
By Rhea Wessel
Dow Jones Newswires

The Wall Street Journal

(Copyright (c) 2000, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

FRANKFURT — The race to register Internet domain names is making the normally concise English language look and sound more like tongue-twisting German.

Though shorter domains are sweeter and easier to remember, short is hard to find in the e-world anymore, and it can cost millions to buy off domain squatters or to develop a short, branded name.

At last count, about 98% of the words in Webster’s English Dictionary had been registered as domain names.

As a result, Internet users are cramming English words together to create unfashionably long new ones.

That’s something the German language has done for a long time. Take, for example, Rindfleischetikettierungsuberwachungsaufgabenubertragungs gesetz — roughly, “the beef-labeling oversight authority law.”

Long before the word dot-com and the concept of mashed-together words entered the English language, Mark Twain once proclaimed the German language an awful one.

“These long things are hardly legitimate words, but are rather combinations of words, and the inventor of them ought to have been killed,” he wrote.

But scroll ahead to today, and the same might be said for the inventor of long English domain names.

English speakers on the Internet are now having to train their eyes to do what Germans have long done — to break up compound words into parts to understand what they mean.

A top editor at Duden, a German publisher of dictionaries and an authority on language, said the eye can easily pick apart words of as many as 12 characters.

But what about 63 — the legal limit for “dot.com” and “dot.de” German domains?

One Web user has captured the essence of the debate by registering the humorous address, “www.mydomainnameislongerthanyours.com.” It has already had 89,000 curious click-throughs.

Some people can laugh about a dearth of short domain names, but it’s no laughing matter when they try to register a Web identity for themselves. It is costing them a bundle.

German utilities Veba AG and Viag AG — which have merged into a new entity called E.ON — recently spent four million marks ($1.9 million), to secure that Web name and identity for the energy businesses they are merging.

“It was important to get a short name because long names are hard to remember,” said Maria-Luise Wolff, senior vice president of corporate communications for E.ON. She added, “The shorter the name, the more difficult the situationfrom a legal perspective.”

Dozens of lawyers and a few ad agencies later, Veba and Viag presented E.ON. The “E” is for energy and “On” is for where the power switch should be set. Though not a dot-com, in the traditional sense, the dot in the name gives it a New Economy ring. And a click on the site takes you directly to the home pages of the Old Economy companies.

E.ON took a long route to a short name, defying the German tendency to call things what they are, regardless of how long it takes, and resisting the trend toward longer domain names.

Lest anyone think the arrival of the New Economy means Germans will willingly surrender their title as champions of the world’s longest words, Denic.de, the registrar of dot.de domain names, jokingly accepted “www.Deutsche-Interessengruppe-gegen-die-Abkuerzungen- in-Domainnamen.de,” which translates roughly as “www.the-German-interest-group-against-the-abbreviation- of-domain-names.de.”