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Yahoo Fires Starting Gun in E-Mail Address Gold Rush

By JR Raphael
Jun 19, 2008 12:10 PM PT

Yahoo is expanding its free e-mail service with two new domain names for Yahoo Mail users. The company has added ymail.com and rocketmail.com as options for personalized e-mail addresses. Registration opens Thursday afternoon.

Yahoo Fires Starting Gun in E-Mail Address Gold Rush

With 266 million active accounts, Yahoo bills itself at the world's largest e-mail service. The company hopes the added domains will give users more selections for simple and memorable addresses that might be already taken on the primary yahoo.com domain.

What's in a Name?

The decision to add new domains came as a result of simple statistics: Yahoo was finding more and more users complaining about not being able to get the e-mail addresses they wanted.

"You add it all together and you've got a pretty remote chance of finding something you're not going have to append a number onto," John Kremer, vice-president of Yahoo Mail, told TechNewsWorld. "This addition of the two new domains will effectively triple the name space," he said.

Yahoo spent months monitoring customer feedback before making the move. It decided to go with ymail.com -- currently the brand for Yahoo Mail on mobile devices -- and rocketmail.com, a name with plenty of history.

"It's kind of a hip and retro e-mail name for us here," Kremer explained.

Rocketmail was a service originally acquired from a company called "411" back in 1997, when Yahoo Mail first launched. The domain has been largely dormant since that time, with just a small number of original users still retaining their accounts.

"We've owned these domains for quite some time. The majority [of our users] really wanted to use these two domains and already associated them in some way, shape or form with Yahoo," Kremer noted.

Branding Burden

The expansion may offer more options, but some industry experts say it could also have a negative effect of shifting focus away from the Yahoo brand -- particularly in the competitive world of Web-based e-mail.

"The people who offer free e-mail do so specifically for one reason: to garner brand awareness for their domain name," Barb Rechterman, executive vice-president of GoDaddy, told TechNewsWorld. "Now Yahoo launches these two new ones and all it's doing is diluting away from the Yahoo brand. I'm not quite sure what value that subsequently brings to Yahoo other than perhaps they get to say that they provide more e-mail addresses," she said.

The added domains may also create added work from a marketing perspective, some speculate, forcing Yahoo to divert resources away from its primary name.

"There's the question of what are you going to do with the 'rocket' brand -- how are you going to make that subbrand do anything particular for you that's not going to be done as well or better by the master brand?" Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, told TechNewsWorld. "You have to spend money turning it into something people care about. Since it doesn't do anything distinctly different from Yahoo, why would you spend that money rather than doing something more with the master brand?" he asked.

Yahoo executives recognize the challenge but believe the added user benefit will, in the long run, pay off.

"We love having people have Yahoo accounts and Yahoo names because that, in a way, advertises our service to everybody they communicate with," Yahoo's Kremer told TechNewsWorld. "There was a hesitation to expand the namespace, [but] the level of customers complaining in our surveys got to a point where we said we need to make this happen."

Charity Auction

A handful of names on the new domains are being reserved for a charity auction on eBay. Yahoo and eBay will offer highly valued addresses such as "soccermom" and "greenguru," with proceeds going to one of five non-profit organizations: the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Ocean Conservancy, Point Foundation, Right To Play, and World Wildlife Fund. Winning bidders will choose which organization their funds will benefit. The auction opens Thursday afternoon.


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