Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cybersquatters have my domains

In trying to put together some domains for my personal and professional interests, I’ve been frustrated by cybersquatters. Let me review the domains I can’t get:

  • The .com is owned by a legitimate businessman of the same name. I could have had it several years ago (was holding out for — foolish) and so it’s my own darn fault.
  • The .com by a legitimate business that has nothing to do with (in my biased view) the “real” Linkabit.
  • Bought it from a cybersquatter because it was for sale; the .com seems to have become a more serious squatter now that the Open Innovation concept is catching on.
  • I registered this because the sdtelecom domain was snapped up by a cybersquatter after the San Diego Telecom Council forgot to renew it. (They now call themselves CommNexus). This one will be impossible to get, because there was a lot of traffic to the old domain and the new squatter is making money off the confusion (whereas if I had it, I would continue to include a link to the org’s new site)
As I understand it, there are various practices involved:
  • Tasting. Someone registers the site cheap and sees if there’s enough revenue from it to continue the registration in the future.
  • Kiting. The same as tasting, but uses the 5-day-free registration to taste without putting any money down. This abuse is so blatant that it’s starting to get some attention.
  • Other squatters. Of course there are those that wait for established domains to expire (as happened with sdtelecom), take domains of 2- and 3-letter combinations, combine two common words, or take misspelling of extremely popular sites.
This is only the domain name typing problem; there is also search engine optimization, for which there is only a fine line distinguishing it from search engine spamming.

Leading the charge against (some) abuses is Bob Parsons, CEO of He caught my eye with the column entitled “Why it's getting harder to get the domain names you want.” He notes that Google is largely responsible for the problem, by providing a business model to the squatters that rewards their speculation:
The practice of domain tasting and kiting continues to rage out-of-control. In February 2007, 55.1 million domain names were registered. Of those, 51.5 million were canceled and refunded just before the 5 day grace period expired and only 3.6 million domain names were actually kept. With the exception of just a few names, 93.5% of those names were registered simply to see how much advertising revenue – paid by big search firms like our “do no evil” friends at Google – will generate when they are associated with a one page Web site and related links.
Parsons thinks the fix has to come from ICANN, but since they don’t do anything — victims of institutional paralysis — that means no fix at all.

Of course, the hands of GoDaddy and Parsons are not completely clean here. They help people get money from parked domains with their “CashParking” service and reward the cybersquatters by buying domains on the open market.

Am I entitled to these domains? Of course not. Do I feel abused when I have to pay some squatter who is polluting the internet by holding onto it? Yes. Does it create confusion and inconvenience and users when 95% of the domains out there lead to some squatter site, making it hard to tell what domains are legitimate? What do you think? (Comments pages are good for that).

This is what happens when you combine low entry barriers and marginal costs of speculation with the ongoing ad-supported revenue model supplied by Google. I don’t see an easy or fair fix that doesn’t cause other problems, but then I’m not staying awake worrying about it, easier. (Although I still regret not grabbing SDTelecom when it expired).

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