The most desirable generic top-level domain ".com" seems becoming less and less affordable for startups which cannot receive sufficient funding at early stages. The price of a decent ".com" name is becoming the factor that soon will affect heavily the strategy of choosing websites names for most startups.
How this strategy will most probably change? What top-level domain is going to be the replacement of "dotcom" for starting businesses?
I personally believe the
lighthouseapp.com ) and
getclicky.com ) pattern will become the most common replacement in the near future. The namespace is much larger than misspelled words (e.g.
flickr.com ) and nonsense words that don't look like spam (e.g.
wufoo.com ). Funky TLDs (e.g.
bit.ly ) are a contender but
Bigger shifts will likely happen in the longer run (like to
.co ) but historically seems to depend on a few companies to "make it big" before it becomes more mainstream.
I don't think there will be a replacement. See my question about non-dotcom domains hurting your brand. You will either have to become more creative with your company/domain name, or it will just cost more money for to get the domain you want.
There are still a lot of good .com domain names out there. And generic domains aren't really good business names anyway.
I agree that .com remains the right choice for most startups: go elsewhere and you'll need the .com to guard your asset.
I always keep a small stock of .com domains on hand, and I can vouch for the fact that if you're creative and systematic in your search, you can find something fit for purpose.
Finally, don't assume that because a domain is registered, it's out of reach. You have nothing to lose by making a direct approach.
Having a .com domain name is not as crucial as it used to be as evidenced by del.icio.us, bit.ly and many others.
Still, a .com has advantages as pointed out and it's worth pursuing. But your premise that you need to spend money on your .com domain is flawed. you just need to compromise as did digg.com, basecamphq.com or 37signals.com. You choose a misspelling, a domain that starts with a number or a longer variant of what you really want. It's not ideal, but part of the game for being a startup. I've owned at one point or another a bunch of domains, and the only time I paid for one was for the domain specific SEO value of a domain in my field. Other than that, I always ended up finding something free.
As a business .com is the only way to go. Is is the default way people will search for your business online. The risk of not being found by potential customers who will typically type your domain name in with a .com ending is not worth the risk. I have clients who started out with non dot.com urls and always came back.