This note considers domain name tasting.
It covers -
- what is domain name tasting?
- how does it work?
- how much tasting, how lucrative?
- trademark infringement, fairness and other concerns
It supplements discussion of the domain name system, registrars,
domain name portfolios and online resource identification.
Domain name tasting (aka domain kiting) involves opportunistic
and large scale registration (and deregistration) of domain
names by domain name registrars within a grace period
in order to identify whether particular names can be retailed
to consumers at premium prices or to generate revenue
in particular through a domain name portfolio.
As a practice it is increasingly common, given the cut-throat
nature of much of the domain name industry and the weakness
or complicity of regulators. It has been defended as a
legitimate business practice. It has been attacked as
inappropriate exploitation of relationships, with registrars
abusing a favoured position, and as something that increases
costs and delays for ordinary domain name registrants.
In the domain name system (DNS)
registrants acquire a right to use a domain name, ie an
address in cyberspace. That right is limited: it is equivalent
to a lease rather than what most people consider as ownership,
although much media coverage of domain names refers to
Most names are acquired from domain name registrars, agents
of the domain name registry for each ccTLD or gTLD. Those
registrars (and ISPs, law firms, web designers and others
who act for them) are equivalent to retailers, with the
registry acting as a wholesaler. Wholesale and retail
activity for a particular TLD is usually overseen by a
domain name manager, a body such as ICANN
or auDA. Rules for that
activity vary from TLD to TLD; the dot-au regime for example
is stricter - and arguably more effective - than that
for the dot-com and dot-net gTLDs.
As intermediaries between each TLD registry and consumers,
registrars typically enjoy a short grace period in handling
registrations. During that period they are able to register
and delete a name without a penalty. Deletion might occur
because the registrant on whose behalf they undertook
the registration indicated that an error had been made.
That error usually involves a typo, for example an extra
character or misplaced letter.
Correction through deletion during the grace period means
that the registrant is not saddled with a mispelt domain
name. Most registries and registrars are highly automated,
with electronic payment systems for transactions between
those parties, and they usually handle a large number
of registrations each day. Some registries have accordingly
established automated refund systems for the cancellation
by registrars of domain names during the grace period.
Others simply accommodate cancellations during that period
through a reconciliation of accounts, ie money does not
actually move back to the particular registrar.
In discussing internet searching
and domain name portfolios
this site notes that some users attempt to intuit online
resources by guessing a domain name rather than using
a search engine, directory, link from a web page or pointer
such as an URL published on a business card, t-shirt or
back of a bus. Others know the correct domain name but
mis-key it, for example add an extra letter or two. Intuition
and mis-keying an address may lead the user to an unintended
Arrival at that address in cyberspace can be commodified,
with the visitor -
advertising for a specific product or service or
a set of links intended to lead onwards to another site
(while meanwhile boosting its search ranking) or
being automatically forwarded to another site, one that
might have no relationship with the initial destination
mis-keyed names are more common than others. Intuition
favours particular mispellings or guesses. Some names
- and thus sites - thus attract more traffic than their
variants. Those names are commercially more attractive.
Domain name tasting represents an empirical identification
of the most favoured names: those that are more likely
to be found by accident and indeed are more likely to
be found in some searches than other names.
It involves registrars or their associates 'tasting' which
names are most likely to be visited by
whether they are visited
deleting the unvisited or less visited at the end of
the grace period
for registration by tasters may be generated from a database,
using algorithms that predict likely mispellings.
They may also include names that have previously been
registered but have either been deliberately abandoned
(ie the registrant has chosen not to renew the registration)
or accidentally not reregistered (eg the registrant simply
forgot to reregister the name or was unaware that renewal
Figures for the amount of tasting in gTLDs and ccTLDs
By mid-2006 it was common to see claims that over 90%
of all registration activity in some TLDs (for example
dot-org and dot-com) involved tasting.
John Levine commented that
domain tasting is one of the more unpleasant developments
in the domain business in the past year. Domain speculators
are registering millions of domains without paying for
them, in a business model not unlike running a condiment
business by visiting every fast food restaurant in town
and scooping up all of the ketchup packets.
March 2006 report indicated that although most of the
450 plus ICANN gTLD registrars delete only few thousand
domain names per month, seven registrars deleted over
one million domain names in that month alone. Dotster
for example registered some 946,953 names and deleted
1,920,658 domain names. Competitor Belgiumdomains registered
250,037 names and deleted 7,258,306 whereas GoDaddy registered
9,466,028 names in March and deleted only 141,182.
Those figures should be approached cautiously. GoDaddy,
which has vehemently criticised Dotster for sniffing,
has been accused of portfolio building.
How lucrative is domain sniffing? The answer to that question
is not available. Registrars and TLD managers do not publish
comprehensive figures on how much money is made from tasting-related
advertising and domain name sales.
Tasting poses a number of issues for the DNS industry,
government regulators and consumers.
Those issues include -
on registry operation
of trademark regimes
about TLD rules and managers
of name scarcity
One complaint is that tasting degrades the performance
of registry servers, consistent with claims that tasting
represents 90% or even 99% of registrations in some TLDs.
Proponents of tasting typically respond that such delays
are not substantial and can be addressed through enhancing
the servers and software used by registries. That has
resulted in rejoinders that tasters should make some financial
contribution to such upgrades, as those costs are borne
by all registrants.
Another issue is violation of trademarks and anti-squatting
regimes, such as the US US Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer
Protection Act (ACPA)
discussed elsewhere on this site.
In principle it is clear that some tasting breaches those
regimes: automated generation of names and temporary renewal
of 'lapsed' registrations will inevitably result in some
registrations that feature unauthorised use of trademarked
words. In practice, although such registration is ethically
dubious the use of the grace period means that few of
the registrations are online for very long. That inhibits
trademark owners seeking to exercise their rights under
ACPA, the UDRP or other rights protection mechanisms.
A third issue - one that has attracted most attention
from US politicians - is 'repurposing' of existing registrations.
It is a problem broader than domain name tasting. It occurs
when a registrant chooses not to renew a domain name registration
or simply forgets to renew, with another entity then registering
the name on expiring of the initial registration period.
People who are familiar with the site (for example because
they have bookmarked it or found it through a search engine)
or who have expectations about site content on the basis
of the name might find that the new registrant has created
a site with quite different content.
PIR, operator of the dot-org registry, thus illustrated
its concerns about tasting by highlighting a rape crisis
centre registration that had been 'rebirthed' as a site
vending erotica. The ICANN Security & Stability Advisory
Committee (SSAC) June 2006 Renewal Considerations
for Domain Name Registrants report (PDF)
noted instances where youth group sites had been reregistered
to promote "Gute seiten aus dem erotik Internet",
perhaps not what you would be expecting from Cub Scout
SSAC cogently notes that
who elect to or unintentionally allow domain name registrations
to expire may experience unanticipated consequences.
that is a fact of life and arguably TLD managers should
not be required to go to extraordinary lengths in protecting
registrants from self-inflicted pain.
A more subtle issue is consumer discontent with perceived
laxity in rules established by TLD managers such as ICANN.
As noted in the following page, some registrars have correctly
indicated that tasting is permitted by existing agreements:
it might be ethically problematical but it is not a formal
breach of those agreements.
Critics of tasting sometimes claim that it denies 'legitimate'
users from registering the tasted names. Proponents have
responded that registration is typically on a first come,
first serve basis and that if someone has registered the
name that you want it is simply a matter of finding another
More disingenuously, they have claimed that tasting cannot
result in a shortage of names available for registration,
as tasting occurs only within the grace period, so that
a name is only temporarily unavailable.
That claim is disingenous as registrars and portfolio
builders, having determined a value for names through
tasting may hold onto them beyond the grace period - ie
not reverse the registration - in order to gain revenue
through 'resale' on the secondary market or merely through
pay-per-click advertising. It is also disingenuous as
tasting is done automatically and may be cycled: a database
registers, deletes, registers, deletes, registers and
deletes a registration within a succession of grace periods.
It highlights questions about whose interests are being
served. Is the registrar acting on its own behalf or on
behalf of its customers? Does it give preferential treatment
to its tasting at the expense of customers who do not
have a relationship with the registry and do not have
the software, hardware and financial capacity to engage
in large-scale kiting?
next page (responses
to domain name tasting)