Armenia’s Most Curiously Profitable Asset Could Be the .AM Domain

Upon gaining independence from Britain in 1978, the tiny Polynesian island-country of Tuvalu, with a population slightly higher than that of the Vatican, found itself isolated from most of the World’s markets. The nearest country, Fiji is over 1,000 km away, and round-trip flights cost upwards of $800.

For decades, Tuvalu relied mostly on fisheries, remittances, and international aid to get by. The country was so cash-strapped that it put off joining the United Nations until the year 2000 because it could not afford the $100,000 entry fee. Yet from 1996 until 2002, it had the fastest growing economy in Polynesia.

How did Tuvalu go from a failed state to an economic miracle in mere decades? Mostly chance, as it turns out.

As the 1980s came around, the World was just getting exposed to the soothing melodies of Harout Pamboukjian, and the beginning of the Internet Age. As such, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (or IANA) was established with the purpose of assigning top-level domains for countries. Canada got ‘.ca’, France received ‘.fr’ and Tuvalu, by pure luck owing to its name, was assigned the top level domain ‘.tv’.

Since, as history showed, people like watching television, it was only a matter of time before our TV-watching habits migrated to the Internet. As companies like Netflix.TV and Twitch.TV began knocking at the Tuvaluan government’s door, the country decided that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to lease their top-level country domain for commercial use. The domain quickly became popular with all sorts of television broadcasters, streaming services and really any enterprise even remotely related to television.

Currently, Tuvalu receives almost $3 million per year in royalties for the registration of new .TV domain names alone, in addition to some $29 million in sheer profits. All in all, Tuvalu receives more than 10 percent of its GDP from the leasing of its top-level domain name. (Though ironically, very few Tuvaluans actually use the suffix themselves.)

Tuvalu isn’t the only country to make money off of a lucky top-level domain name. Silicon Valley hipsters have reappropriated Columbia’s ‘.co’ country suffix as an alternative to the much-stigmatized ‘.com’. Italy’s ‘.it’ has gained popularity as a domain hack due to its phonological similarity to the English language pronoun, hatching domains like play.it, write.it and so on.

Another country suffix ripe with opportunities for domain hacking is ‘.am’. Other than serving as the abbreviation for Armenia, these two letters also appear at the end of many words in the English language. This coincidence hasn’t been lost in the tech world. Firms like the instant-Infographic creator Infogr.am and the secure instant messaging app Telegram already use the domain to redirect to their main sites. The largest ‘.am’ user by far is the popular Facebook-owned photo-sharing app Instagram. Over 800 million users across the world regularly use the services of a company whose Internet presence is parked on an Armenian country suffix.

Armenia has been branding itself as Eastern Europe’s answer to Silicon Valley. Why not go the way of Tuvalu and add the .AM domain to our digital income stream?

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Raffi Elliott

Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-born entrepreneur and occasional journalist who likes to ramble on about socioeconomic and political issues in Armenia. He lives in Yerevan with his family. He also holds a masters degree in International Relations.

4 Comments

  1. If Instagram’s address is Instagram.com and not Instagram.am, then I don’t see how Armenia is profiting. Can you clarify?

    • If you type in instagr.am on your browser, it automatically redirects to instagram.com (meaning Instagram owns a .am domain extension)

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