When white smoke began rising earlier this month over the Sistine Chapel, millions of people flocked to television screens to find out who would be the next pope.
Meanwhile, an opportunistic few headed to their computers, logged into domain registry sites, and raced to purchase Web sites featuring the name of the church’s new leader — providing a quick jolt in business for firms such as Reston-based VeriSign.
“There are few events so widely publicized as the election of a new pope, and as expected there was an enormous rush to register domains moments after the names ‘Jorge Mario Bergoglio’ and ‘Pope Francis I’ became known around the world,” senior-level executives for VeriSign, one of the primary registry’s for Internet domains such “.com” and “.net,” wrote on the company’s blog.
During the month between the announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement and the start of the papal conclave, the word “pope” was included in 674 newly registered domains, according to data compiled by the company. That was nearly matched on March 13, when 548 “pope” Web sites were purchased following the introduction of Pope Francis.
VeriSign’s executives said they witnessed similar bumps during the royal wedding and Hurricane Sandy, as savvy Internet users vied for domains that they hoped would attract a flood of visitors. The advertising rewards can be lucrative for domain owners, who can often resell their domains for a high return.
Though only a temporary boost, the added business comes as a crucial time for VeriSign. In November, the company signed a new contract with the Commerce Department that gives VeriSign the rights to manage valuable domains, but bars the company from raising registration prices for the next six years.
VeriSign did not respond to requests for comment.
Renewal rates for “.com” and “.net” domains have also been slipping recently, falling from 74 percent to 72 percent during the first three quarters of last year, according to the company’s latest industry briefing.
Consumers are about to have even more domain options, too, as the industry is being shaken up by a massive expansion of the domain naming system.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees the assignment of Internet addresses, will next month begin introducing about 20 new Web site endings a week, such as “.vote,” “.college” and “.church.”
VeriSign, has pushed back, arguing that some additions such as “.cam” and “.bom” are too similar to “.com” and create confusion for consumers.