The AI Digital Land Rush is On!
How Anguilla is Capitalizing on Its AI Domain as Artificial Intelligence Comes to the Forefront…of Seemingly Everything - and the Lessons This Unique Case Holds for All of Us When Unexpected Good Fortune Lands on Our Doorstep
As the famous movie villain, Harry Payne (played by Dennis Hopper), frighteningly posed his questions in the movie, Speed, let's start in the same spirit with this: “Pop quiz, hotshot!” Want to bet that you could find Anguilla on a map? Is it a country or a city? Can you name the continent or even the general area where it is located in our wide, wide world?
Well, if you are lucky enough to have visited its lovely white sand beaches on a vacation, a cruise, or even your honeymoon, then you know that Anguilla is a picturesque small island that is a British territory in the Eastern Caribbean. Anguilla is small in every sense! Physically, the island is only 35 square miles in size (half the size of either Washington, DC or Lichtenstein). And in terms of population, there are only approximately 15,000 permanent residents who today call the island their home. If you haven’t been there, well, let’s just say that this island should definitely be on your bucket list!
The real story today however is that this little island is the latest example of how sudden good fortune can land upon you, your family, your business, or even in this instance, your country - through absolutely, positively no effort on your own part! Now to win the lottery, you have to at least actually buy the ticket. To become the latest music sensation, you have to at least actually record the song. To have a hot product that sells out, you have to actually make it (or today, have it made for you - in China or elsewhere) and market it! Right now, we are witnessing that rare oddity that happens every once and a while in business and in life. This is the story of how the tiny island of Anguilla is literally the hottest - and most valuable - property on the Internet. How? Why? Well, it is all about two letters… and these are “AI!”
The AI Boom…in AI Domains
Domain names have always been a curious thing since Al Gore invented the Internet (well, not so much!). From the beginnings of the commercial web in the 1990s, there’s been a very lucrative - and active - market for the right domain names - those that are highly desirable because they contain the right word(s). (As an aside, I worked for a time on a consulting project with a very happy, very wealthy gentleman who built his lakehouse - and basically funded his retirement - by registering the “business.com” domain name on a lark very early on!). And now, the business of domain names has become even more complicated - and lucrative in many instances - by the fact that the market has evolved - out of necessity - to create ever more “digital real estate” (as in 2023, there are now over 1.1 billion websites!).
Since the beginnings of the Web, we have become accustomed to a major part of the nomenclature of the Internet, in that we have “.com” names (for companies), “.org” names (for non-profits), “.edu” names (for educational institutions), and “.gov” names (for governmental entities). These “extensions” - the final part of a website address - are what are known as Top-Level Domains (TLD). Now, there are a whole host of categories of TLDs, as, for instance, you can now have - for a price - not just "business.com" for example, but variations on that with a whole host of TLDs, such as “business.tv,” “business.inc,” “business.co,” etc. You can even the word take your desired web identifier of “business” (in Web parlance, this is what is known as a Second-Level Domain [SLD]), and match that with a country-specific TLD to create a unique - and valuable - domain name. At present, there are a total of 243 TLDs, with 195 of them owned (i.e. controlled and sold by independent countries) and 48 being owned by territories that come under the control, possession, or simply a political association with another country (e.g. “.pr” for Puerto Rico, “.as” for American Samoa, and “.gu” for Guam, all territories of the United States).
Now, as anyone who has been sentient and above ground lately knows, artificial intelligence - or AI - has been the technology story of the past year or more - and it appears that it will be so for many, many years to come. In business, in education, in health care, in…well, seemingly everything, technology experts, entrepreneurs, big tech companies, and yes, even ethicists, are trying to figure out exactly how, where, and when AI can be used for good - and yes, for efficiency, in making life and even work easier for all of us. Yes, ask any high school or college student today about how they are using artificial intelligence, and you will likely hear a lot about how they are using it for writing essays, solving math problems, and even creating digital art. Now, whether that is cheating or not is a HUGE issue across all of education today! And of course, there is a rush to see how AI can be utilized for both generating profits and for building new businesses and enhancing existing ones! In short, as with plastics in the 1960’s, the Internet in the 1990’s, and social media in the 2010’s, artificial intelligence is seen - and deservedly so - as being poised to be the proverbial “next big thing!”
So, consider the sheer luck of the country of Anguilla - right now! The first Country Code Top-level TLDs were introduced in 1985 as two-letter domains. And way back in 1995, Anguilla was assigned the “AI” top-level domain by the IANA (the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority). Until 2010, when the IANA's restrictions were relaxed on the sales of these country-specific TLDs to non-nationals of any country. So, until that point, anyone wanting to register a domain name with the AI extension had to be based on this tiny island. Needless to say, the trade in “.AI” TLDs was basically nothing in comparison to “best-sellers” like the “.us (for businesses in the United States), “.cn” (for businesses in China), or even “.ru” (for businesses in Russia). However, with the rules changed so that anyone in the world could buy a domain name with any country’s TLD, and artificial intelligence becoming a hot topic, the stage was set for Anguilla and the .AI domain extension to be "hot" as well! And then at the end of November 2022, ChatGPT was released for public use, and suddenly, anyone and everyone was interested in artificial intelligence (yes, “AI” for short) - and many, many people all around the world were seeking to find a way to make a buck or two - or billions of them - with artificial intelligence!
In short, with the rise of AI - and the intense, worldwide interest in finding new ways to apply it (i.e. to make a buck), Anguilla was a country in the absolute right place at the right time in the digital space! Interest in the .AI top-level domain - an interest that had been slowly building as both companies and entrepreneurial individuals/startups had been exploring the artificial intelligence market over the years - suddenly surged in late 2022! This can be seen in Figure 1 (Google Search Volume for the AI Domain, 2015 - Late 2023) below. The data analysts at Chartr looked at the Google Search traffic for the AI domain name dating back a number of years. And as you can see in the chart they put together, right around the time that ChatGPT was grabbing headlines in late 2022, interest in the “.AI” TLD exploded - far, far outpacing interest in any other of the “trending” domain names at the time. And this trend shows no sign of slowing down, as interest in artificial intelligence - and all that it can do - is only building today!
Figure 1: Google Search Volume for the AI Domain, 2015 - Late 2023
Source: Chartr, “AI High: The Island of Anguilla is Riding the AI Wave,” September 2023 (Used with permission).
The sales of “.AI” top-level domains - to individuals, entrepreneurs, and start-ups, and yes, even to some of the biggest companies (seeking to establish their presence and credibility in the artificial intelligence market) have - to put it mildly - taken off over the past year! As can be seen in Figure 2 (Total .AI Domains Registered in One Year, May 27, 2022 - May 27, 2023) below in data analyzed by Axios, from late May 2022 to the same time this year (2023), the total number of domain names registered with the “.AI” top-level domain roughly tripled in the span of just twelve months!
Figure 2: Total .AI Domains Registered in One Year, May 27, 2022 - May 27, 2023
By way of contrast, according to the Axios analysis, sales of the traditional “.com” domain names only increased by 27% over the same 12-month period - compared to 174% for the “.ai” TLD!. And as demand for “.AI” domain names has grown, so too have the prices that buyers are willing to pay for this highly-coveted TLD! According to a recent analysis from MarkMonitor, a company that specializes in managing the digital space for leading brands, sales of domain names with the “.AI” extension now commonly command 6 figures today, whereas the same domains were typically being sold for just 3 or even 4 figures a year ago! The boom in “.AI” domain names is thus undisputedly, unmistakably on - for as you read this article, someone is - or more likely, someones are - registering a ".ai" domain name for themselves, their company, or their startup or even their germ of a business idea employing artificial intelligence!
So, how does all of this benefit Anguilla? As Bloomberg recently put it, Anguilla found itself “sitting on a digital treasure,” and well, the math is simple on how much this treasure is worth to the island nation. In short, all of this is very, very good - and lucrative - for the island, its government, and ultimately, the citizens of Anguilla! The revenue from the sales of .AI web addresses flows directly to the island’s government, as domain registrars, like GoDaddy, Namecheap, and Squarespace, pay Anguilla a fixed price - currently $140 for a 2-year domain name registration - for the use of the .AI extension. And Anguilla, which had brought in $7 million from .AI domain registrations in 2021, is looking at raking in $30 million in revenue from domain sales this year (2023)! This will amount to more than 10% of the island’s total gross domestic product! All of this will work to benefit the island’s government and its residents, as estimates are that .AI domain sales will now amount to a third of the annual recurring revenue for the Anguillan government - a windfall by any measure for both the island’s leaders and for all its citizens!
According to a recently published analysis, the “net” impact of all of this on Anguilla as a whole is nothing less than monumental, even transformational. Vincent Cate is the president of DataHaven.net, the firm that the government of Anguilla has partnered with to market - and sell - the “.AI” domain to what is a very interested - and growing - market today. He was quoted in this analysis stating:
“I knew way back that [.ai] could end up being used for artificial intelligence, that it could be valuable someday. But it was a question of when, right?”.... It really, really took off on November 30, 2022, when ChatGPT came out. The sales have gone up a lot since then.”
And “gone up a lot” is definitely underselling the state of affairs not only presently, but what the prospects are for the sales - and prices - of “.AI” domain names for the next few years, and likely, for the next decade - and perhaps beyond! As Cate recently observed: “I think we’re in the early days of artificial intelligence, so I think we’re still in the early days of .ai domain names!” (emphasis added).
So what are we to take of the “AI” boom and the “boomlet” in “.AI” top-level domains that have benefited - substantially benefited - the tiny island of Antigua? As Benj Edwards, an industry analyst and reporter with Ars Technica recently observed: “While some experts foresee a decline in the "AI gold rush" that may eventually cool the market for ".AI" domains…Anguilla is a case study of how even a small Caribbean island can benefit from a global tech boom.” And one domain name industry analyst, Elliot Silver, put it very well - and succinctly, saying simply that “it’s neat” that Anguilla is benefitting so much from .AI domain sales!
And this is not to say that Anguilla is unique among small island nations that have benefitted - and benefitted handsomely - from their assigned two-letter domain extensions. In the 1990s, the tiny nation of Tuvalu began to rake in millions of dollars annually from the registration fees paid for its “.TV” top-level domain. While the “.tv” domain rush has slowed for Tuvalu, it is still a prized - and paid for - TLD, as oh yeah, a little service known as Twitch that the kids really like (and adults too!) can be found at Twitch.tv!
In short, as a management professor and consultant who specializes in technology matters, I can simply respond with a learned answer as to what all of this means: Sometimes, the “Gods of Fortune,” the “Money Fairy,”...or just sheer luck happen to land on your doorstep - as a business, as an organization, as an individual, and yes, even as a government and a nation! The 15,000 or so residents of Anguilla will ALL benefit not from a “master strategy” to increase the island's revenue (and thus, its government’s ability to offer more services and/or to decrease taxes - or BOTH!). Did anyone in Antigua do anything to market the “.AI” top-level domain or to capitalize on the fact that their two-letter moniker just happened to correspond to what some have called the biggest technological innovation since the creation of the World Wide Web itself? No less a tech authority with “street cred” than Bill Gates recently observed that:
“Artificial intelligence (AI) is the most important technological advance in decades… (calling) it as fundamental as the creation of the microprocessor, the personal computer, the Internet, and the mobile phone.”
So here’s what I, as a business expert would observe on the matter: Anguilla and its citizens got very, very lucky in this instance! The country, its citizens, its economy, and yes, even perhaps its main industry - tourism - will ALL benefit from the simple fact that almost 25 years ago, those two simple letters - “AI” - were assigned to be Anguilla’s top-level domain. It is an accident. It is happenstance. It is - no doubt - good fortune, very good fortune! However, the Anguilla experience stands as a testament that anyone, any company, any government, anywhere can have a fortunate moment - a fortunate “turn of the cards” if you will - one that they may have had little, if anything, to do with!
The question then becomes simply this: What would you do with an unforeseen, unexpected, and yes, unsought, opportunity such as that which the tiny island country of Anguilla is experiencing right now? The artist Andy Warhol famously said - way back in seemingly ancient times - well, the 1960s: “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” Right now, all of Anguilla - willingly or unwillingly, wittingly or unwillingly - is today in the world’s spotlight because it alone possesses the top-level “.AI” domain that many, many folks will want - and will pay vast sums for - in order to position themselves and their companies for what many predict will be the “AI future!” Would your organization, your company, and yes, most importantly, you, yourself, be “ready for your closeup?” This surely is the moment for Anguilla as it benefits from the “AI Gold Rush.” But ask yourself - honestly: Would you be able to leverage an opportunity that happens to land upon you, in your career or just personally, or would you be paralyzed by analysis - and fear - in the moment? Would you be ready for your “15 Minutes of Fame” that would undoubtedly have the potential to be life-altering, or would you flail - or even fail - in that moment?
The way that the world works in an age of instant communication and instant change today, at a pace that shows absolutely no signs of abating or even slowing down, you, as a manager, a leader, and as an individual need to be prepared for whatever falls your way - even an expected, unanticipated, unpredictable opportunity - or conversely, a threat. At a time when reputations and even fortunes can be made - or lost - in an instant, there is simply no managerial, career, or life advice better than this: Be prepared! Yes, many times, you will have to respond to negative circumstances. However, there are times when fate will indeed work in your favor and you will have the opportunity to capitalize on the circumstances that happen to you - or are simply around you. How well, how ready, and how effective you respond in that instance can determine not just the fate of you and your career, but the futures and fortunes of those around you and even far beyond you! It is ALL up to you to determine how you can be best prepared to react - and succeed - in that moment of truth. Are you ready?
About David Wyld
David Wyld is a Professor of Strategic Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, publisher, executive educator, and experienced expert witness. You can view all of his work at https://authory.com/DavidWyld. You can subscribe to his Medium article feed at: https://davidwyld.medium.com/subscribe.
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