Domain Tasting: yummy web spam!

December 20th, 2006 | by ian |

I just read a very interesting historical account of the practice of domain tasting, whereby priveleged parties register huge number of expiring domain names and sample their traffic to determine their value, usually determined by monetizing the traffic using AdWords. Unsuspecting vistors find themselves at a destination designed to direct them to click through an advertisement to find what they were looking for in the first place, and the registrant gets a cut of the action.

Present day “Domain Tasting” has its roots in 2001 and 2002 when a small group of ambitious domain registrants persuaded two registrars …to allow them to register large blocks of domain names for the purpose of establishing which names garnered type-in traffic and then subsequently deleting those which didn’t.

While this practice was quickly closed down, in 2004 a change in how DNS works allowed such “tasting” practices to function again, and this time much more effectively:

The paid search market in 2004 and beyond was much more mature than in 2001, so higher advertising pay-rates drove down “keep” thresholds. Rather than keeping .01% of names, registrants were keeping significantly more. Higher type-in visitor (direct navigation) traffic counts increased the profit potential and allowed more registrants and registrars to participate in the game; significantly driving up registration volumes (kept registrations)…. This surprise increase in registration volume and profits caused the registries to tacitly support domain tasting this second-time around.

So we have a 2 tier system where a few folks with special rights can exploit an arguably public resource (the domain registry) which has contributed to it being practically impossible to find a decent domain name that is not registered already, and also forced millions of “web spam” pages to be created for the purpose of encouraging advertising clickthroughs. Seem unfair to the average internet user? Well it gets better:

The irony is that names which are kept, only get-kept because they have marginal traffic. If these names were not registered, the traffic would still exist, but rather than flow to the registrant of the domain name, the traffic would default to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Browser or Google’s Firefox toolbar or some other search browser helper. Every day Microsoft and Google make money selling error traffic from inactive URLs that come in via browser application.

Yes thats correct, Microsoft and Google, in addition to domain squatters and tasters, profit from our typos and our instinctive search methods (direct domain typing). The question I pose to the ether: should these practices be allowed?

Here’s an experiment for you: think of something you want information on but instead of searching in Google just type in the logical domain name for it. I bet you’ll stumble upon one of these sites…it took me 2 tries, the first domain was not registered at all. Is it a violation of my expected privacy if I am a cancer patient and I type in cancerpatient-dot-com and I am presented with a site full of advertising? I don’t know but it sure doesn’t provide any value. Thanks a lot Gregg!

Read the fascinating historical account in all its glory here:

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