There was a bit of a hubbub in February as it emerged that OpenAI had seemingly purchased AI.com in order to redirect it to the ChatGPT web interface. But now erstwhile backer, Twitter haver and X lover Elon Musk appears to have taken the valuable domain off their hands, or else someone has done it for him: AI.com now redirects to X.ai, the billionaire’s embryonic machine learning research outfit.
Of course domains are bought and sold every day. But two-letter .com domains are rare and highly expensive, especially those that form words or familiar abbreviations. When AI.com started redirecting to OpenAI’s site, Mashable pointed out that the domain could hardly have sold for less than IT.com’s $3.8 million the previous year, and likely attained a far higher price given the hype around artificial intelligence in general.
No doubt OpenAI hoped that the purchase of AI.com would turn confused URL bar typers into lifetime users. Or perhaps it intended to eventually move its consumer-facing operations (like ChatGPT’s web client) over to the shorter domain. It seems we’ll never know, because now the domain goes to X.ai.
The news seems to have first been reported by Analytics India Magazine (perhaps a bidder itself at some point), but the truth is outside the transfer, there is precious little to say about the switch. It’s just bizarre and expensive enough to warrant noting here.
X.ai is still a largely notional organization, with a handful of academics and engineers working on, one imagines, whatever Musk tells them to. Its stated goal is “to understand the true nature of the universe,” but they haven’t made any visible progress since the site went up in July. Admittedly Musk has been busy during that time.
What could it mean? Did Sam Altman tire of his toy? Was the plan to shift to the new domain scrapped in favor of a new one? Was the sale tentative to begin with, or perhaps a month-to-month lease? Was there a bidding war, or did someone lose interest?
Whatever the case, it ends up just feeling like a couple rich guys squabbling over a shiny object. ChatGPT is the most recognizable brand in AI — so why pay millions to start a new one from scratch? And X.ai is already short and memorable (or at least it will be until there are eight other Musk companies called X), and there’s nothing worth looking at on the site, so why pay so much to redirect another empty site? It’s worth noting that OpenAI never did actually confirm it bought the domain, and Musk has not yet, and would never return our emails.
I will say that if I had $10 million and the opportunity to buy AI.com, you know what I would do? Redirect it to the obvious candidate and then dangle it in front of their competitors for a 50% markup. If that didn’t work, I’d switch it to the rival and offer it to the first company. Here’s hoping some information superhighwayman (if you will) had the same brainwave and squeezed one of these billionaires for a solid payday. If so, well played.
I suspect that ultimately no one actually cares who owns AI.com, and people in fact may be suspicious of whatever corporate entity controls what is obviously a vanity domain. Let’s all just agree not to use it. That will teach everyone a lesson.