Many domain investors and startup owners are enthusiastic about the .io domain extension. Quality single word names can command five-figure prices. The extension has one of the best global sell-through rates of all extensions. The rate of adoption of .io by startups continues to grow each year, and a recent study found .io to be the most common choice after .com. This article analyzes .io sales data, and considers possible reasons why the extension has done so well. Next week in part two I will look at the types of names that sell in the .io extension. British Indian Ocean Territory The British Indian Ocean Territory is a group of 58 small islands spread over a large ocean area roughly midway between Indonesia and eastern Africa. Since 1997.io has been the country code domain extension for the region. The only current inhabitants are about 2500 British and American military personnel, along with contract staff supporting their operations, and employees who administer the island. Access to the region is restricted, and no tourist visits are allowed. The fact that there are no permanent inhabitants, differentiates .io from almost all other country code extensions. The Chagossians, who lived on the islands prior to 1968, were forcibly removed during 1968 to 1973 to make way for a military base. They and their descendants continue to seek the right to return. The .io Domain Extension The .io domain extension was approved in 1997. The extension is managed by the United Kingdom based Internet Computer Bureau. They also manage the .ac and .sh extensions. As I understand it, there is a perpetual agreement, as long as the extension is smoothly administered. However, 100% ownership of Internet Computer Bureau was secured by Afilias in 2017. One of the first domains registered in the extension was levi.io, by Levi Strauss and Co. on May 13, 1998. The use of the domain name in an advertising campaign helped the extension get noticed. The domain name is still registered, but does not resolve currently. There are now 493,000 .io domain names registered . This makes it the 53rd most registered extension, about the same as .cc, .space, .no and .tv. About 33.800 .io domain names are actively for sale, according to Dofo data. According to one estimate, .io websites account for about 1% of the 100,000 most popular websites, and about 0.4% of all websites. Levi Strauss and Co. registered and used one of the first domains in the extension in 1998. Startups Like .io The .io extension is increasingly popular among startup owners, and not just in the technology sector. James Iles recently analyzed the extension choices for nearly one thousand early 2020 startups. That study found that 7% of recent startups selected .io. That is still substantially less than the 61% who adopted a .com, although the difference shrinks each year. Also, the .io adoption rate is higher than .co, an extension used by 4% of recent startups. The .org and .net combined accounted for 4%. New extension domains were selected by 10% of 2020 startups in the study, but that is spread across a number of extensions, although dominated by .app. A recent study found that 7% of 2020 startups use .io. Why Is .io So Popular? There are many possible reasons for the popularity of the .io domain extension. In the coding world IO is the standard abbreviation for input-output. The scarcity of high quality single-word .com domain names at prices within the range of many startups left open the door for other extensions. The fact that the .io extension has, as I understand it, always carried a higher price than most extensions, has perhaps helped protect its reputation. Also, the registry imposed a ban on any sex-related use in the extension. The Spamhaus score for the extension is a superb 0.01, with only 0.3% of active sites abusive. Deep discounting can hurt an extension. I think the pleasing and upbeat sound of the extension when spoken may have subliminally helped it. On a QWERTY keyboard the I and O keys are next to each other and near the position of the right hand. Early on Google designated .io as a generic country code. That favoured the extension over regional country codes in global search algorithms. While a country code extension, the fact that it is a region with no current permanent population may be helpful. It is freed from possible negative events or political decisions, although see the storm clouds section below. There were a few early high profile adopters of the extension, such as the first registrant, Levi Strauss and Co. This helped the extension get noticed, and influenced others to give it a try. Use of the extension by popular coder sites helped with familiarity of the extension among tech startup owners. The domain hack possibilities probably account for a bit of the interest in the extension, but is not a major factor. I wonder whether a popular auction site that specializes in this extension, used by both domain investors and end users, may facilitate acquisition of names in the extension. A Look at Sales Let’s look at sales in the .io extension, at least those recorded in the NameBio database. Over the last 5 years there are on average 980 .io sales per year, although many of those were wholesale acquisitions. Over only the past year, the number of sales is slightly higher, about 1100, while the average price, at about $940, is slightly lower than the five-year average. That may simply reflect more domain investor acquisitions within the data. The .io extension is included in the multi-year trend study of sales volumes and average prices. There were 175 .io extension sales of $1000 or more recorded in the NameBio database during the past year. To put that in perspective, there were about 14,600 .com sales during the same time period. In other words, for sales of $1000 or more, for every one .io sale there are about 83 .com sales. The average sale price of an .io extension name over the 5 year period is almost exactly $1000. Keep in mind, though, the mix of wholesale and retail transactions. At least as recorded in NameBio, only 83 of the .io sales all-time have been at $10,000 or more. Only 12 have been above $25,000, and none yet above $100,000, at least in the public record. The highest value sales in the extension were swipe ($68,000), lucky ($67,000), tank (60,000), cloud ($45,000), esports ($40,000), cook ($39,750, matrix ($30,000), library ($30,000), ease ($28,888), worlds ($25,000), home ($25,000) and voice ($25,000). These are indicative of the kind of names that sell in .io in general. The strong majority of premium sales are single words, most with broad general meaning. Next week I will look in more detail at the types of names that sell well in the extension. Short acronyms also sell well in .io, with FN, FB, FD, XO, DB and HB all selling for $15,000 or more. There are 83 .com sales above $1000 for every one .io sale of that value. Price Comparisons with Legacy Extensions While surprisingly few high-value sales of the same word for both a major legacy extension and .io are in the public record, I did find a few comparisons. voice.com sold for $30 million in 2019, while voice.io sold for $25,000, also in 2019. esports.net sold for $50,000 in 2017, while the next year esports.io sold at $40,000. The domain cloud.org sold at $42,000 in 2015, while cloud.io fetched $45,000 the same year. In 2014 matrix.org sold for $8000, while four years later matrix.io sold at $30,000 in 2018. studio.org sold for $20,000, although back in 2012, while studio.io sold for $20,000 in 2019. The short acronym FN sold for $15,000 in .net in 2013, and at $20,000 in .io in 2017. Another short, and highly-desired, acronym FB sold for $8.5 million in .com in 2010, and $20,000 in .io in 2016. HB.com sold for $100,000 in 2016, while HB.io sold for $16,000 in 2018. The .net also has a recorded sale at $9000, but that was back in 2012. give.com sold for $500,000 in 2015, while give.io sold for $15,800 in 2017. shop.com sold for $3.5 million back in 2003, while shop.io just fetched $15,600 in 2018. This exact word sold for higher prices in three different other country codes, and in three different new extensions. beauty.com sold for $800,000 back in 2000, while beauty.io sold at $15,000 in 2018. mine.net sold for $10,000 in 2015, while mine.io sold at $15,000 in 2016. me.com fetched $460,000, although back in 2005. The more recent sale of me.io in 2017 was for $13,300. gorilla.com sold at $496,0300 in 2019, and gorilla.io for $12,000 the same year. The acronym ICO sold for just $1700 in .net in 2010, before the initial coin offering had the meaning it does today. ico.io sold in 2017 for $12,000 This is a small dataset, with considerable variability, but I conclude the price of a high-quality word in .io is usually similar to what it would sell for in .net or .org, but a factor of at least 10 less than that word would sell for in .com. A Stellar Sell-Through Rate The .io extension has among the very best sell-through rates of any extension. If one calculates an apparent sell-through rate for all sales over $100 over the past three-year period, comparing the average of 961 .io sales per year to the 33,700 .io extension domain names currently listed for sale across all the major marketplaces, one gets an apparent .io sell-through rate of 2.8%. This is several times higher than sell-through rates for legacy extensions, calculated in a similar way. To remove the impact of acquisitions at the few hundred dollar level from the calculation, I also calculated a sell-through rate for sales of $500 and up. This time the sell-through rate is 1.0% for .io, whereas by comparison an industry-wide apparent sell-through rate for .com sales $500 and up over the past year is 0.17%. In both cases most retail sales are not reported in NameBio, so the real rates will be higher. It appears that the industry-wide sell-through rate in .io is substantially higher than in the major legacy extensions. The sell-through rates in most other extensions, on the other hand, are usually lower than those for the legacy extensions. The global sell-through rate in .io is several times higher than the major legacy extensions. Storm Clouds? As with any extension, it is wise to be alert to possible concerns. In the case of .io these might include the following. The controversy over the removal of the original inhabitants continues. Will that cause some potential users to make a different name choice? Should the right to return by the Chagossians be granted, there would probably be a move to rename the region, thereby changing the country code extension. In 2006 the Chagossians did win a ruling in the High Court of Justice in England permitting them to return, but that was later appealed. In 2012 the UK government began a review of the situation, and in November 2016 announced that they would not allow the Chagossians to repopulate the area. They announced a 40 million pound monetary compensation package to support Chagossians in the communities where they currently live. There is also a long standing territorial dispute between the United Kingdom and Mauritius with respect to sovereignty over the islands. In 2017 the United Nations General Assembly voted to send the dispute to the International Court of Justice. In February 2019 the International Court of Justice ruled that “the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible”. Kevin Murphy has written about the ruling from a domain perspective. Climate change, and rising sea-levels, may eventually threaten much of the area of the islands. Most of the land is less than 2 metres above sea level. Will that threaten country code status for the region? Probably the major factor, though, is simply whether other options will gain market share at the expense of .io. For example, .ai has carved out the artificial intelligence market. But, as of now, the .io domain extension is doing very well. It is soundly managed, and has good sales momentum. Quality .io names have good liquidity among domainers. The extension has more public recognition than the majority of extensions outside the three major legacy ones. While not inexpensive to hold, renewal costs have remained relatively constant at $25 to $30 per year, down slightly from several years ago. Those Were The Days! There has been an .io showcase thread, started by MrCurly, on NamePros since early 2015. Among the other early contributors to the .io thread were Josh Reason, JudgeMind, and AnthonyD. On Feb 22, 2015 AnthonyD listed some of the .io names he had acquired including craft, dress, voice, and relate. Clearly they were ahead of the curve in realizing the value in the extension. That thread is an interesting read, watching the sorts of names mentioned over the years. For example on Feb 23, 2015 SYAS pointed out among the names available to hand register that day were convention, allergy, royalty, mercy, kidz, and gambler. Final Thoughts This is the first part of a two-part series on the .io extension. Next week I will take a closer look at what types of names sell in the extension., as well as the venues that account for most of the sales. Finally, I will explore how some of the major sales are being used. This report was base on research and analysis, and not on a personal history of investing in the .io extension. It would be great to hear from some of those who invested early in the .io extension, as well as those who currently have strong investments in .io. When do you think we will see the first publicly verified $100,000 sale in the extension? Please share your own experiences with .io in the comments?