Startup America Partnership Rebrands to S.co – Good or Bad Choice?Posted: February 3, 2012
Less than 3 months after O.co infamously rebranded itself back to Overstock, Startup America Partnership has decided to rebrand itself to S.co. In addition to the rebrand, they are also working with the .co registry to offer all of its startup members a free .co domain for the first year. Their previous domain was StartupAmericaPartnership.org.
In our article on O.co’s change, we asked whether .co was considered a bust at that point. We felt that it wasn’t a bust yet, but that it was certainly terrible news for the extension and they needed more large companies to adopt it (or small companies that would grow to be large).
SAP’s rebranding to S.co is certainly good news for the extension, which does have other notable sites such as 500 Startups on 500.co, Angel List on Angel.co and the Founder Institute at FI.co. The question is, was it a good or bad choice for a rebrand?
Pros of the change to S.co
1. Far shorter in length
SAP’s previous domain was 29 characters long, their new one only 4 characters long. If anything, mobile device users thank them for the change as their old domain would be a lot to type on a mobile device. Extremely short domains have been popular in recent years thanks largely to the success of Twitter and the need for shorter links in tweets.
2. Works in conjunction with their deal with the .co registry
On the surface, it may be easy to criticize this choice as not well thought out, but clearly it was given their deal with the .co registry. They intend to be well-involved with the extension, not simply using it, which may help them ultimately be more easily remembered on the new name than others that use the .co extension.
3. Will get them a lot of press
A dramatic change of name like this has already gotten them talked about in the domain world and surely will in the business world as well. Overstock’s change to O.co was controversial as well and got many media sources talking about them. Many people who didn’t know about them before will learn of them, which in and of itself will be good for them to gain some new members.
Cons of the change to S.co
1. The same issue that hurt O.co: Nothing is on S.com
Overstock cited the main reason for switching back to Overstock.com was the fact that many visitors tried to go to O.com to reach them and wound up reaching no website. That’s because single-character .com’s have long been reserved, with only a few like PayPal’s X.com being registered before that happened. There were likely many other reasons leading to the change, but that is certainly a major one and would affect S.co all the same.
2. S.co doesn’t describe what’s on the domain
Apart from their use of the .co extension, one criticism of the new name is that it’s not a descriptive name unlike their old one. If you simply saw the domain S.co, you would have absolutely no idea what’s on it. Given the other single-letter .co domains in the most visible use, T.co and G.co, are both being used as URL shorteners, that would likely be the first assumption by many people. That may end up losing SAP some traffic in the long run.
3. An organization not using .org
Their reasons for using S.co given their corresponding deal with the .co registry are understandable, but at the end of the day they’re not an organization that’s not on a fitting extension. Even if visitors didn’t assume S.co was a URL shortener, their next guess would be a for-profit brand. In fact, at first glance looking at their site, it’s not that evident they are a non-profit.
In doing that, they lose one of the best benefits of being a non-profit and of using .org: trust. People look to .org for trusted resources and help and this change to a .co domain may eliminate some of that subconsciously-imbued trust that their old domain contained.
Was it a good or bad choice?
My conclusion is that their new name may end up working better for them than their old name. Their partnership with the .co registry may mean that they didn’t have to pay for their new name, which is significant since other single-letter .co domains have gone for as much as $1 million. Given the press they’ll get from the change, I don’t believe it was a bad choice.
That said, I think they could have made a better choice. As yesterday’s article indicated, .co is not very well adopted among tech and social media startups compared to .com, and those have thus far been the most likely to adopt alternative extensions. Going the .co route both with their name and with the deal they made with the registrar draws my skepticism as a result.
I think they would have been better off sticking with .org or, if going off of .org, going with .com. They would have had to spend money for a better name, whether they were getting an acronym or a short descriptive name, but they would have been in a more established extension that won’t alienate or confuse some visitors.
As some people have noted, .co may also be an odd choice given it is the country-code extension for Colombia and this is an American non-profit organization. I’m not sure that would be something focused on by many of their visitors as the .co registry has marketed it as a globalized TLD.
What does this mean for the .co TLD?
The partnership to give out .co domains to SAP’s members will be worth a lot more than their use of S.co in my opinion. The .co extension needs a lot more successful uses of more run-of-the-mill .co names instead of the 1 and 2-letter .co’s that aren’t publicly available in order for the extension to gain long-term viability.
The problem is that now applications are being accepted for new TLDs, and the first of those will be released next year. The clock has been ticking for .co to embed itself enough as a viable extension to set itself apart from future new TLDs and it hasn’t done that yet. We’ll see whether they can in the next year, but if not, they’ll be competing with the likes of dozens if not hundreds of generic extensions vying for the small fraction of businesses that don’t choose .com.