2005 Orchestra Website Review Surprise: What’s In A Name?

When it comes to an orchestra’s domain name, you can easily apply the old real estate adage of “location, location, location”, but in the case of a domain name the “location” is really all about how simple it is for potential visitors to reach their internet address. As it turns out, some orchestras had the prudence to secure as many domain names associated to their ensemble name as possible. Others didn’t…

For example, you might assume that the Chicago Symphony, who finished in first place for the 2004 and 2005 Orchestra Website Reviews, would own the domain name chicagosymphony.com, but they don’t. Likewise, the Boston Symphony doesn’t own bostonsymphony.com, the Philadelphia Orchestra doesn’t own philadelphiaorchestra.com, and the Cleveland Orchestra doesn’t own clevelandorchestra.com. In each of those cases, someone else not affiliated with the orchestra owns the domain name, but good luck in discovering exactly who owns the domain names because the owners typically protect themselves by using a third party registration company as the administrative contact on the Whois database.

Upon a little investigation I discovered that chicagosymphony.com is for sale but the owner isn’t willing to entertain bids under $25,000. In the case of bostonsymphony.com, philadelphiaorchestra.com, and clevelandorchestra.com the registration company who administers those domain names only accepts a maximum bid of $10,000, although a representative said the owners can reject that bid and counteroffer with something much higher (and in the case of those domain names that’s exactly what has happened in the past).

Acronym Soup
Besides using the geographically based ensemble name as the primary domain name, orchestras also rely on traditional acronyms to serve as their primary domain name. In the Chicago Symphony’s case, their primary domain name is cso.org and they also own chicagosymphony.org, which redirects to the cso.org primary domain name. At the Boston Symphony, they use bso.org as their primary domain name, and at the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras, they use shortened versions of their geographically based name as their primary domain name.

However, what happens if there are orchestras in two different cities that start with the same name letter, like Boston and Baltimore? The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra uses their geographically based ensemble name, baltimoresymphony.org, as their primary domain name. They also own baltimoresymphony.com, which redirects to their .org primary domain name. But unless the folks at the Boston Symphony feel like sharing, Baltimore won’t be able to benefit from using bso.org anytime soon. Neither orchestra can benefit from bso.com, that domain name is owned by another one of those mysterious entities.

For another example, look at the acronym “dso”. The Detroit Symphony beat the orchestras in Dallas and Delaware to the punch by registering dso.org. They also own detroitsymphony.org and detroitsymphony.com (3 out of 4 possible combinations, that’s not bad).

It’s Nothing Personal, Just Business
Unlike the cases in Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, and Philadelphia where it’s obvious that someone purchased the .com geographically based ensemble domain name because they knew those orchestras would eventually go looking for them, there are plenty of other for profit and nonprofit organizations which have similar acronyms. Remember the acronym “dso” which was just examined above? As it turns out, the dso.com domain name is owned by Device Software Optimization, a software optimization development company. There’s certainly no malice there, it’s simply their acronym too.

The poor St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is already burdened with a very domain-unfriendly name; a lot of words and an geographically mandated abbreviation. The best bet would have been to go with the .org and .com versions of “spco”. Unfortunately, they were beat to the .com punch by a for profit company with the same acronym as well as another nonprofit organization with the same acronym who picked up the .org domain name. The domain name spco.com is owned by Harvard Graphics, a presentation software developer, and spco.org is owned by the Signatory Painting Contractors Organization, an organization which fosters apprenticeships and training among industrial and residential painting contractor. As a result, the poor St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is left with a very ambiguous domain name of thespco.org (you get three guesses as to who owns thespco.com).

.com vs. .org: Is One Better Than The Other Or Do You Need Both?
Traditionally, orchestras have utilized the .org domain extension because it’s most closely aligned with nonprofit organizations. According to internet search engine, Google.com, internet users typically search for orchestras under .org domain extensions. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean you have to be a nonprofit organization to own a.org domain extension. The transparently for profit corporation, Nike, owns nike.com, nike.org, nike.net, nike.biz and every other domain extension there is.

As such, many orchestras have attempted to purchase domain names in both ..org and .com domain extensions. But that doesn’t always go as planned; sometimes orchestras get in each other’s way to purchase both domain extensions, as has been demonstrated by the acronym example above for the orchestras in Baltimore and Detroit.

But what happens when you have established orchestras in cities with the same name but are located in different states? Well, you end up with a good old fashioned horse race which is aptly demonstrated between the Richmond Symphony Orchestra (Richmond, VA) and the Richmond Symphony Orchestra (Richmond, IN).

In true David & Goliath form, the much smaller budget orchestra in Richmond, IN beat their larger budget doppelganger to the .org domain extension prize, which left the Virginia based Richmonders with the .com domain extension. But couldn’t the Virginia group register a .org domain extension under their acronym, RSO? They could have if it wasn’t for Howard Lee, a Palm OS freeware utilities programmer who lives in Hong Kong, he owns it. They can also forget about rso.com, that’s owned by their orchestral neighbors 140 miles to the west in Roanoke, VA; the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra.

Malice Aforethought & Lessons Not Learned
Not all domain name registration is simply a matter of who strikes earlier; sometimes malice may be involved. Given the amount of money the domain owners of chicagosymphony.com, bostonsymphony.com, philadelphiaorchestra.com, and clevelandorchestra.com are looking for, it’s not hard to image that they are in it for ridiculous levels of profit and they have no sincere interest in those organizations as cultural institutions.

Nevertheless, business is business and orchestras are just as responsible for registering their domain names as any other for profit business (can you imagine Nike not having the forethought to buy up every domain extension associated with their name?).

At the conclusion of the 2004 Orchestra Website Review, I highlighted the bizarre situation surrounding knoxvillesymphony.org a porn redirect site which obviously has nothing to do with the Knoxville Symphony. According to the whois database, the knoxvillesymphony.org domain name is registered by someone in Prague with an email address at hit4hit.com (good luck tracking them down).

I had high hopes that bringing this fiasco to light would have been enough to spook every orchestra out there into double checking whether or not they owned all possible combination of domain names and domain extensions based on their geographically based ensemble name and acronym based name. At that time, in the fall of 2004, I found over 30 orchestras who didn’t own the .org extension of their obvious domain name.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like what I found when conducting the 2005 orchestra website review. By the time I began collecting data on 8/22/05, I discovered that only one orchestra had apparently learned from Knoxville’s lesson and two more have had their domain name purchased out from under them by someone not affiliated with the organization.

As such, in order to keep the domain names out of the hands of people like knoxvillesymphony.org I decided to take matters into my own hands and on 8/23/05 and I invite you to visit the following URL’s, all of which are now owned by me:

  1. http://www.newjerseysymphony.org/
  2. http://www.northcarolinasymphony.org/
  3. http://www.buffalophilharmonic.org/
  4. http://www.toledosymphony.org/
  5. http://charlestonsymphony.org/
  6. http://www.mississippisymphony.org/
  7. http://www.westvirginiasymphony.org/
  8. http://www.newmexicosymphony.org/
  9. http://www.eriephilharmonic.org/
  10. http://www.wichitasymphony.org/
  11. http://www.rhodeislandphilharmonic.org/
  12. http://www.longislandphilharmonic.org/
  13. http://www.ftwaynephilharmonic.org/
  14. http://www.lachamberorchestra..org/
  15. http://www.stlouissymphony.org/

Granted, the last three aren’t as obvious of choices for domain names as the rest, but I thought it would be appropriate to buy them up anyway. Although each of the above orchestras obviously decided to use other URL’s, they still ran the significant risk of having someone like the folks who now own knoxvillesymphony.org purchase these domain names.

Fortunately, I don’t have any plans to turn those URL’s into pornography redirects. As a matter of fact, I’ll be delighted to let anyone associated with the respective orchestra purchase them for a fraction of a percent of what the folks want for domain names like chicagosymphony.com.

NOTICE: I only purchased enough orchestra domain names as my disposable income allowed. There are still several fish out in the sea (.com and ..org names) so I strongly recommend that every orchestra (or individuals connected with their orchestra) take the time to do a domain name search so they can net up the stragglers.

Just In Case You Think All Of This Domain Name Stuff Is Nonsense
Think again. Regardless of how easy it is for people to Google what they are looking for, it doesn’t take much to rob an organization of their identity. In a day and age where orchestras need to reach out and develop a new audience base, they have to fight the same name recognition battles as every other organization vying for a ticket buyer’s dollar and donations.

Losing what would be an obvious domain name to another legitimate organization, or worse, someone with less than honorable purposes is simply one more hurdle orchestras have to deal with. There are undoubtedly numerous individuals out there who may think that a domain name simply doesn’t matter that much or only securing one domain name is all a cash conscious nonprofit organization should care about.

Nevertheless, orchestras are subject to many of the same business forces as every other organization tolerates. Finding themselves on the losing end of a technological curve will only be one more reason preventing them from completely fulfilling their respective mission goals.

Although some organizations are obviously locked out of acquiring their obvious domain name options, there’s 15 good examples above (and more out there) to illustrate that it’s not too late for everyone.

POSTSCRIPT: For an interesting example of the points discussed in this article, here’s a copy of a short post from the Composers Forum at sequenza21.com posted one day after I put up the website for www.newmexicosymphony.org:

Thursday, September 15, 2005
And the Winner Is… Drew McManus!

I recently looked at Drew McManus’s 2005 Orchestra Website Review.

I thought I’d check out one of the orchestra websites at random. I picked the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. Its URL is www.nmso.org, but I didn’t know that, so I just typed in www.newmexicosymphony.org and found this:

I bet you were assuming you’d end up at the website for the The New Mexico Symphony. Unfortunately, that organization does not own this URL. Nevertheless, while you’re here please take the time to learn more about orchestra management and the administrators engaged in those activities (one of which is to purchase the URL’s which contain the orchestra’s name!). My name is Drew McManus, I’m the author of ‘Adaptistration’, a weblog about orchestra management. I’m also an orchestra consultant and a classical musician….

If you’re interested in purchasing this URL then you’re in luck because it’s for sale. there are no restrictions on who may purchase this, meaning, you don’t have to be the orchestra in question to own this URL. you can be:
a board member
an administrator (disgruntled or not)
a musician (disgruntled or not)
a union representative
a volunteer
a patron
just someone looking for an investment opportunity

posted by Corey Dargel 5:11 PM Comments (21)

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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4 thoughts on “2005 Orchestra Website Review Surprise: What’s In A Name?

  1. I’ve always thought that the Metropolitan Opera has wasted its brand by not having http://www.metropolitanopera.org as a registered domain name. For the longest time, they’ve used http://www.metopera.org as their main address. But since their redesign last spring, entering that domain forwards one to http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera. The base domain “metoperafamily” seems to be a conglomeration of their Guild and Opera Shop sites with the company site. Isn’t the most important resource the base company name?

    I just think they are squandering a valuable asset. They’ve completely ignored any of the conifigurations that you suggeset.

  2. Thanks for pointing out the domain name change for the Met Rich, I wasn’t aware of that. Every time I go looking for the Met website I have to end up doing a Google search (that’s a characteristic of the criteria also; domain name clarity) which gets me there but it’s enough of a PITA factor to make me slightly annoyed once I show up.

    In general, opera websites are quirky…

  3. The El Paso symphony has a fairly good website but keeps their musicians wages way below poverty level.
    Management touts them as the longest running Texas orchestra and generally has the upper hand in negotions.

  4. The El Paso symphony has a fairly good website but keeps their musicians wages way below poverty level.
    Management touts them as the longest running Texas orchestra and generally has the upper hand in negotiations.
    A gliterazzi agenda perhaps?

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