ESPN: fix your domain already
Monday, January 14, 2008
The espn.com website is one of my favorite resources. I use it all the time to get updates on scores, check my team's stats, schedules, research the competition etc. In short, I spend a lot of time on espn.com in a given day. Apparently, I'm not alone, espn.com is one of the most visited sites on the Web. They have an incredible user base that probably spends just as much time as I do on their website, and no doubt with the growing mobile Internet market, their user base is continuing to expand.
That said, why would one of the largest and most successful websites on the Internet want their domain to be 'espn.go.com' and not 'espn.com'? Good question. I honestly don't know the answer. Here's my best guess: the leaders of the organization don't know why this is such a painfully bad decision and their organizational culture won't allow the right people to explain it to them.
This misstep has a history. I remember as far back as 1999 that there was a 'go' in between espn and .com. The reasoning for it at the time made at least some sense. The web was just coming along and a lot of crazy ideas were being thrown against a wall to see what would stick. ESPN's parent company wanted to market their slick new Internet 'portal' (this term is so new and hip!!!), and what better way than take some of their flagship websites and and put them behind their portal's domain - go.com. As I said, interesting, though not the greatest strategy. Time has shown that if you build a great product that works really well (see google.com), you have a much better chance of having people actually use it and use it more than once. Trying to tack some of your most recognizable and visited websites onto another domain in a transparent effort to siphon some of its' visitors is not the way to build a successful following for a web application. In short, if they actually believe in the go.com concept, do a great job on it, and let it stand on its' own.
There certainly isn't any technology related reason why this can't change. Since they own both domains, this shouldn't be a problem right? They can just redirect everything from espn.go.com over to espn.com and use the referring URL to point everyone in the right direction. This will obviously sting for a while, but better to get the sting over now, than to wait 20 years to do it.
Why is it even important, I mean it is just two letters and a dot, right? The reason this is important is because this is your address, your Internet identification. The thing that everyone knows you by. You know, the most important part of your business? Why should the most important part of your business be utilized incorrectly? Perhaps more importantly, what does that say about your business? What does that say about your users?
This problem represents one of the most challenging aspects to large organizations with a web presence. The web developers that work at espn all probably know how lame it is to have this curiously long domain. They all understand that it isn't the right strategy. They know that it is time to cut go.com off from the visitor gravy train and put it out to pasture. Yet nothing gets changed. Successful organzations foster an environment where big decisions don't necessarily come from the top. Sometimes, it's the people in the trenches that know the right move. Espn.com would do well to listen to them.
I'll be checking every day until espn finally moves over from the domain dark side. Until that day, everytime I see the 'go' in the ESPN domain, I'll be thinking about why great organizations make bad decisions and what can easily be done to fix them.