Elon Musk and the X.com domain name made headlines in September 2022 after the Tesla CEO revealed more about his plans for his proposed purchase of the social network Twitter.
In a series of tweets, Musk revealed that "Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app," and "Twitter is an accelerant to fulfilling the original X.com vision."
Regardless of whether Musk's acquisition of Twitter closes, and it seems like there are plenty of bumps in the road ahead, the multi-billionaire's love affair with the single-letter X.com is undeniable. It's a story that started in the early days of the Internet and continues to this day.
An Exclusive Asset Class
X.com is part of the most exclusive asset class on the Internet, single-letter .com domain names.
While you may think there are 26 single-letter domains in existence, the reality is that these are rarer even than that. Verisign, the registry responsible for the .com domain extension, has only ever permitted 3 of these domains to be released. Those are Q.com, X.com, and Z.com.
The registry has contemplated releasing O.com too, but those plans haven't come to fruition as of writing.
An absolute scarcity of these domain names means that they are extremely valuable, and only one single-letter .com has ever changed hands in a publicly disclosed deal, Z.com.
The Z.com domain was sold in 2014 by the automotive brand Nissan for JPY800 million, equivalent to $6.8 million at the time. That gives some idea of the potential value of the rarest of digital assets and suggests that X.com is a multi-million-dollar domain name.
Musk's association with the X.com domain started in 1999 following early success in co-founding city guide software creator Zip2. This company was ultimately sold for $307 million, of which Musk received $22 million.
Months after exiting Zip2, Musk and several co-founders secured X.com to create an online bank, also called X.com.
It's unknown how much the founding team paid for the X.com domain name, but even in 1999, Musk knew this domain was special. While the .com boom attracted businesses willing to part with tens of thousands of dollars for a domain, Musk valued X.com in the million-dollar range.
According to a 1999 Wall Street Journal article, Musk "was forced to pay for his domain name in stock because techies Marcel DePaolis and Dave Weinstein, who owned the coveted one-letter name, refused to take the nearly $1 million in cash he was offering."
"They're Valley people, which is why those bastards insisted on equity," Musk reportedly said in response.
It's unclear what Musk saw in the letter X and the X.com domain, but a 2021 tweet from Musk confirms his fondness for the letter X. Incidentally, X is also how Musk publicly refers to his first child with singer Grimes.
By 2000, X.com had merged with Confinity, the creators of the money transfer service PayPal. This now-iconic company was in its early days but had become far more popular than Musk's X.com.
In 2001, eBay acquired PayPal for $1.75 billion in stock, and Musk received $175.8 million. Although details of their terms and payouts haven't been disclosed, X.com's former owners, DePaolis and Weinstein, likely benefited immensely from their stock options, too.
As for the X.com domain, that became PayPal's.
PayPal and X.com
With PayPal's popularity ever increasing thanks to its role within eBay's growing auction platform, the X.com domain name was largely forgotten about, and Musk, meanwhile, moved on to other projects, such as SpaceX, founding in 2002. Note the use of the letter X, again.
Archive.org records show that X.com hosted a PayPal website between 2001 and 2003. From then until 2008, when PayPal resurrected the X.com domain name to house its developmental service, PayPal Labs, which contained experimental products and projects from PayPal's team.
When PayPal was spun off to become an independent, publicly traded company in 2015, X.com again went dormant.
By 2017, PayPal was ready to divest X.com. Dozens of companies would have benefited from owning the name and likely had the available funds to secure X.com, including Google's moonshot lab, X.
However, it was Elon Musk that had the potent combination of money and motivation to secure X.com.
No details of the domain name deal have ever been disclosed, but the almost $6.8 million price paid for Z.com indicates the possibilities of a single-letter .com domain.
It could be argued that X.com has far more value than Z.com, thanks to X.com's versatility and extensive potential usage across multiple industries.
To Musk, though, sentimental value partly drove the purchase. The appeal of reuniting with the domain name was too strong to ignore.
Once X.com was back in Musk's possession, the domain began hosting a rather underwhelming web page. From July 2017, visitors to X.com were greeted with a single letter X, placed in the top left-hand corner of the page.
Aside from briefly forwarding to Musk's Boring Company to advertise a hat sale, X.com has been sidelined while the wealthiest man in the world concentrates on other ventures.
The Future of X.com
With the $44 billion deal to acquire Twitter grabbing headlines again, there has been some renewed focus on X.com, especially from Musk himself.
In an October 2022 tweet, Musk said, "Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app."
To handle the acquisition of Twitter, Musk has registered 3 companies in Delaware. Unsurprisingly, those companies are X Holdings, X Holdings II, and X Holdings III.
Whether Twitter ultimately rebrands to X or whether X Holdings becomes the parental business entity of Twitter, SpaceX, and other Musk-owned companies, is unknown.
What is likely, though, is that X.com will have a central role to play.
More than 20 years after Musk first acquired X.com, the domain name seems as close to his heart as ever. The serial entrepreneur is just looking for the right opportunity to create something special at X.com