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A Domain Hack is when the top level domain (ux.stackexchange.com) and sometimes the subdomain (ux.stackexchange.com) is used to spell out a word instead of being used as a country code (.us, .uk) or organization type indicator (.com, .gov). This results in site names like "del.icio.us".

The resulting names are cute, but are they usable? I can't imagine telling my mother "Okay, just navigate to 'd-e-l-dot-i-c-i-o-dot-us'...". Comunicating such URLs in spoken conversation is awkward at best. If your only interaction with the URL is inside a browser it's largely irrelevant, but still the name might not look like a URL without the familiar .com/etc. top level domain.

Is there data or any good articles covering this issue?

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Great observation, I have wondered this myself. –  Matt Rockwell Dec 9 '11 at 19:43
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The addition of the subdomain hack makes del.icio.us particularly awkward IMO, but top level domain hacks bug me too. I additionally have a problem with them using country/ect domains to make a "cute" URL instead of their intended purpose, but that's a moral and SEO issue not as much UX. –  Ben Brocka Dec 9 '11 at 19:50
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I've always pushed for buying the dot-com version in addition to the "cute" URL... and not considering a URL is the .com version isn't available. Just like Bitly owns bit.ly and bitly.com. –  Daniel Newman Dec 9 '11 at 20:13
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There's also the problem of not remembering whether it's del.icio.us or de.licio.us or deli.cio.us. –  Peter Olson Dec 11 '11 at 5:04
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Sometimes those cute URLs are also the result of not owning the proper one. –  kontur Jan 1 '13 at 21:13

3 Answers 3

I think I tread the line between Ben and Daniel. I think that, if the domain is to be considered professional, then going with both the .com and the domain hack would be fine in my opinion. However, I can only go with that as long as the brand didn't rely on the "cute" domain.

There's something to be said about the "web-savvy" vs the "not-so-web-savvy" here. For bit.ly, it's fine to push that domain hack, I'd assume a great portion of their customer base isn't offended by these types of URLs (as long as the .com backup is in place). As of now, a lot of people understand, and can find their way to these URLs, however there are still a considerable amount of users who are unfamiliar with any suffixes other then .com, .net, .edu and .org.

So, in the end I think it's really up to how you feel about your audience AND your potential audience. Room for growth is always important and relying on such a unique URL could dilute the overall experience of a lot of users.

I'm not sure how this would effect the SEO of said site, but I would be very interested to see the analytics of these unique domains versus .com domains. Maybe on a large scale.

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very good points; del.icio.us started out very much for the tech savvy. I actually note that their domain hack is now a redirect to delicious.com! Their branding has refocused on "delicious" not the domain hack (which must have happened since I last used the site). –  Ben Brocka Dec 11 '11 at 19:54
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@Ben Brocka: the change happened years ago! As a (tech savy) user I regret that change. The domain name was something that made it cool. –  dolmen Dec 21 '11 at 14:02

I don't think it is much of an issue, now that the URL bar in browsers starts to double as a search bar anyway. Typing the "cute" URL will result in a search page with the right site on it (probably right on top) anyway.

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I don't think that this assumption should be made. This behavior is still far from universal, especially on non-desktop devices. –  Jessica Yang Jan 15 at 23:04

I am not aware of any good articles or data regarding this issue. it is probably worth noting that your example "del.icio.us" now goes to delicious.com .

A traditional domain will be preferable to a cute one.

You have very few chances to meet new users, you do not want any barriers to users visiting your site, such as having to figure out where a dot should be, or having to take scroll past some adverts to reach your results after a search.

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