Why Isn’t Everything A .com? What Does .com Mean?

(Last Updated On: April 25, 2023)

We might not think about urls all that often, but we probably just kind of take .com at the end of all of them as an assumed fact most of the time. If you were told to guess the domain for any website, “.com” is probably one of your safest bets after “.org” or “.net.” You might see “.io” thrown around, especially for tech-startup related domains, at which point you might stop to ask why isn’t everything a .com?

What’s .com for?

Website domains (www.example.com) are hierarchical, and it ascends from left to right. So anatomically, the “.com” sits at the top of the hierarchy when looking at a website’s address. It’s otherwise known as a top-level domain, alongside something like .edu, .org., or .net. 

.com was first implemented as one of the first top-level domains in the Domain Name System in 1985. The Domain Name System can be understood as “the system that allows you to go where you want to go on the internet” at a very basic level. Our other top-level domains created with .com are .edu, .gov, .org, .mil, .net, and .int. 

No, the government doesn’t still manage it

Originally, .com was maintained by the US Department of Defense and it was short for “commercial.” Hopefully that elucidates its intended purpose for use by commercial groups. Currently, the domain is maintained by a company called Verisign, which you’ll notice is not the government. Verisign took control over .com in 2000, but the Department of Defense had stopped managing it by 1993 when the National Science Foundation took control. The NSF then contracted the job out to Network Solutions. Verisign took control in 2000 by virtue of their buying Network Solutions. 

It was around the mid-90s that the ability to register for a .com opened up to just about anyone, so it became ubiquitous for everyone to have a .com instead of just commercial entities. If you remember the dot-com bubble, this is how it started. Since computers and internet access were becoming more common in the mid-90s, a lot of people wanted to carve out their space on the growing internet. This gave us the weird era of dot-com companies—most of which unsurprisingly died with the bursting of the dot-com bubble in the early 2000s. 

Because .com opened up to everyone for general use, the .biz domain was created in 2001 to separate business websites from “just some guy.” This didn’t really catch on though. 

Other common domains

You’re likely also familiar with the .gov, .edu, .mil, .net, and .org domains. .gov, .edu, and .mil are pretty straightforward. They’re short for “government,” “education,” and “military” respectively. Government domains are for use specifically by government websites (duh), and military domains are for the military (also duh) remembering that the internet was first designed for military use. 

.edu domains are reserved broadly for accredited institutions, which is why you basically only see them used by schools or like their libraries. 

Maybe a little more nebulous are the .org and .net websites. Respectively, they’re short for “organization” and “network.” The original intent of the .org was for any non-commercial organization, but more accurately it was the “we don’t know where this goes” category. This distinction kind of stops mattering anyway once .com was opened up to the public, and while .org is most commonly used by nonprofits and communities it’s still open to the public (provided you register a .org through a registrar). 

.net was intended for websites related to any kind of networking infrastructure, and is like .org you can kind of trace this threat. Many Internet Service Providers use .net domains. There aren’t any restrictions on who can have one though, so .net is commonly used by people who couldn’t get their domain registered under a .com because someone else had it. 

A lot of new domains started popping up in 2012 when companies were allowed to apply for their own top-level domains. That’s where stuff like .apple or .google comes from. 

What about other countries?

Everything we’ve talked about here has been broadly specific to the United States, since the internet was kind of invented there. This is why there are country codes, which just denote the country something is registered for. The very first country code was implemented in 1985 with the other original top-level domains, and surprise, surprise it was .us for the United States. It was followed shortly after by .uk (United Kingdom) and .il (Israel). 

What’s with .io and .tv?

We kind of referenced the .io for tech companies earlier, and if you’re one of the many people who watches streams on Twitch you might have been wondering about .tv. 

Country codes are all two-letter combinations, and if you’re wondering what something like .io means then you’ve seen a domain hack. This time it doesn’t refer to some kind of security breach, it just means it’s like a life hack but for websites. 

If you didn’t know .tv was a country code, you might have thought that “twitch.tv” was just a play on how it’s a streaming website and it’s kind of like watching television. That is the point, but you might now be wondering how this happens since .tv refers to Tuvalu and Twitch (owned by Amazon) is notably based in not-Tuvalu. 

Stuff like this happens because registration on some country code domains can be pretty lenient. Some countries, like Tuvalu, open up the use of their country code for wider use as a source of income. Coming back to Tuvalu, 8.4% of their government’s revenue came from royalties associated with the .tv country code in 2019. 

If you’re wondering why so many tech startups like .io (British Indian Ocean Territory), it’s because it’s cheaper and sort of references input/output. 

Speaking of websites, see if you know your frequently-visited ones here.

About the Author:

+ posts

Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.