Domain tasting, the controversial practice of buying Internet domains and returning those that fail to generate type-in traffic before the registration bill comes due, has proven to be enormously profitable at scale.
On Friday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names (ICANN), the organization that oversees the Domain Name System, asked the Internet community for input about domain tasting, raising the possibility that domain speculation might someday be curtailed.
Domain tasting has been debated for several years. A letter in March 2006 from Edward G. Viltz, president and CEO of the Public Interest Registry (PIR), which manages the .org domain, urged ICANN to look into the effect of domain tasting on Internet stability and security.
In June, ICANN report issued a report that identified several possible consequences of domain tasting: the destabilization of the domain name system, the creation of consumer confusion, increased costs and burdens on "legitimate registrants," and the facilitation of trademark abuse and criminal activity.
Domain tasting represents the vast majority of Internet domain registrations. It exists because domain registration contracts in seven top-level domains (.biz, .com, .info, .name, .net, .org, and .pro) allow a grace period, typically five days, for the return of a registered domain at no charge.
Originally instituted to allow registrants to avoid liability for mistakes made when registering a domain name, the grace period has become a way for registrants to capitalize on the mistakes made by users of the Internet. Typos, it turns out, generate a lot of traffic, as do correctly entered generic words typed into Web browser address bars as domains.
During the grace period, domain tasters are able to evaluate newly registered domains for potential ad revenue. That potential is realized when visitors arrive, either by intentionally typing the domain into their Web browser address bar or by doing so accidentally with a typo, and then click on pay-per-click ads. Domain tasters keep the ones that generate more income than the domain registration cost and return the others without paying anything.
In January, according to PIR, five registrars deleted 1,773,910 domain names during the grace period and retained 10,862. That same month, VeriSign reported that among top 10 registrars, 95% of all deleted .com and .net domain names were the result of domain tasting.
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