In early 1999 the riba relaunched its website (www.riba.net) as an arena to provide wide-ranging and invaluable information about its services. The initiative complements advances in the field by emap, with the launch of ajplus.co.uk. The riba website now receives around 2000 visitors a day. In addition the institute broadcasts three weekly e-mails to 7000 of its members, and operates Ribanet Conference - a set of online 'discussion' groups to which almost 3000 members are connected. Collectively, these electronic services handle about 1 million communications a year, making the riba one of the most active professional institutes in the world in its use of the Internet. A notable feature of its website is the free online access to the library catalogue, containing more than 250,000 records of journal articles, books and drawings. This service alone draws around 1000 visitors a day.
There is now a healthy trading market in website addresses know as domain names, and the background to their development is interesting. They were initially sold, often on a first-come-first-served basis, for sums as small as £50. A person registering a domain name becomes its permanent owner provided they maintain a nominal annual registration payment.
But the investment into Internet ventures in the last two years has triggered a lively second-hand market in domain names. This gathered pace rapidly in 1999, the most spectacular case being the sale in late 1999 of the name 'business.com' for $7.5 million. Other recent high value sales include 'loans.com' ($3 million) and 'express.com' ($2 million).
People interested in the domain name market should visit the website of the world's leading broker: www.greatdomains.com. This company has more than 450,000 domain names for sale, all searchable at its website.
The reason firms are paying these high prices for simple, descriptive domain names is that it is costly to promote an Internet service, given the huge number of websites jostling for attention. The purchase of a simple, descriptive domain name can clearly pay its way in reducing the need for this marketing spend. Furthermore a valuable domain name is a capital asset, which is likely to hold its value, whereas a tv awareness and advertising campaign is here today and gone tomorrow.
Members of the riba have suggested from time to time that the riba should try to buy a simple, descriptive name for its website, ideally 'architecture.com'. In late February the opportunity to do this arose, as the owner of that name put it up for auction.
The riba was successful in this auction, with a bid of $190,000 (£118,000). The new domain name will be accounted for as a capital asset, to be depreciated over a period of at least 10 years. Accordingly, the purchase is fully self-financing, as a new stream of income has been secured through the rental of 'advertising buttons' on the front page of the riba website. The initial advertiser is the institute's commercial arm, riba Companies, which is using the buttons to promote its online bookshop, appointments bureau, and product selector. The purchase therefore has no net impact on the institute's income and expenditure account.
The name of the riba's existing website will shortly be changed to 'architecture.com', although anyone accessing the previous names (www.riba.org and www.riba.net) can continue to do so, and will be automatically diverted to the architecture.com website.
The aim now is to take advantage of this simple, descriptive, and memorable name to build use of the website further for riba information. The increased traffic will add to its commercial appeal, and eventually to further investment.
The riba believes that architecture.com is the world's best Internet address for an institute of architecture. The address reflects the riba's progress in its Internet activities, and provides a springboard for the future.
The riba moved with breathtaking speed to secure this great domain address. And for those who worry about these things, riba.com was a non-starter - it had already been taken by the Regional Investment Bankers Association in America.