Please explain this strange domain name situation.
July 24, 2006 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Are there people/businesses that somehow track domains that people try but don't exist, and purchase them?

Last week I tried the domain name for the lake that my cottage is on (Loughborough Lake in Sydenham, ON - It came back with a server not found error, and I thought, hmm, I should buy that and do something cool with it.

Today I checked it and it comes up with a network solutions page, and whois shows me that it was purchased by a CB of Rochester, NY on July 16th.

Now, either this is a (in my opinion) pretty unusual coincidence, or somehow I had the rug pulled out from under my feet.

Can anyone give me any insight as to which of these possibilities it may be? Legitimate coincidence or malicious squatting?
posted by davey_darling to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It happens all the time. Do not search for a domain name you're not prepared to immediately buy.
posted by schwa at 2:30 PM on July 24, 2006

There's an article about this at eWeek.
posted by curse at 2:34 PM on July 24, 2006

The same thing happened to me once. For a Russian friend, I wanted to register the (I would have thought) obscure name It was available, but the server couldn't process the order, and when I tried a different registrar I discovered the name had just then been registered to someone else. So I guess the answer to your question may be yes. I think it's probably safer, in this respect, to pay a few dollars more and use a reputable registrar.
posted by londongeezer at 2:34 PM on July 24, 2006

This happened to be but I actually tried to register the domain and Aplus cheesed the process and my domain was scooped up by an Australian guy.

Boy I was happy when my customer rep called me. I teed off on him and he STILL ended the call with "Let me know if we can do anything for you." I told him to get me my damned domain.
posted by fenriq at 2:39 PM on July 24, 2006

Hmm. In the article that curse linked, the domains were checked using a domain availability checker. I just entered it into my browser's address bar. Is the same thing happening here?

Also, by the looks of the article, it wasn't necessarily the best idea to post the link in my question - they may be monitoring traffic on the site and give up the domain if there is none or little.

posted by davey_darling at 2:46 PM on July 24, 2006

Can someone explain how this would work from an economic perspective? Isnt the cost of registering a domain non-zero?

Why cant we get back at these guys by doing hundreds of domain searches with random strings (the equivalent of a DOS attack)?
posted by vacapinta at 2:50 PM on July 24, 2006

Murky things have always gone on at ISPs and registrars, I had a domain nabbed within minutes years ago. I suspect in some cases it's a secret 'perk' set up by IT staff.
posted by malevolent at 2:52 PM on July 24, 2006

I always assumed something nefarious: that domain registrars log each query somewhere and sell reports of the data to people who then buy them.
posted by xmutex at 2:53 PM on July 24, 2006

So after reading all that, I suppose we are not supposed to use the browser address bar, or a registrars searchbox. I guess the only thing to do is go with a "reputable" registrar", but where is that list? TIA.
posted by BillyG at 2:58 PM on July 24, 2006

Can someone explain how this would work from an economic perspective? Isnt the cost of registering a domain non-zero?

Yes, but it's very low.

1) Register domain for five dollars.
2) Sell it to some poor bastard for a hundred.
3) Profit.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:58 PM on July 24, 2006

And according to a post on Boing Boing today, there's a loophole that allows you to back out of step 1 if step 2 doesn't come through within five days.
posted by hades at 3:19 PM on July 24, 2006

I have an anecdote about the loophole mentioned by Hades.

There was a domain name I had my eye on, for a contemplated future project, that shockingly was not taken, since a search on the (short) name in question returned upwards of 300,000 hits on Google. But since I hadn't decided whether I really needed the domain, I held off on registering it.

One day I checked its status on, and found that it had been registered that very day by someone in Kenya. I cursed myself for not grabbing it when I had the chance.

A few days later, for the hell of it, I checked the status of the domain name in question, and it was available again. I grabbed it. Obviously, the person in Kenya who registered the domain name exploited the loophole that Hades is talking about.
posted by jayder at 3:44 PM on July 24, 2006

Interesting. Thanks, hades!
posted by vacapinta at 4:19 PM on July 24, 2006

It's not a loophole, its normal practise. From a different article from the same source as curse's link,
"Domain Tasting" is the latest unintended outcome from that lack of care. It all begins with a feature called "Create Grace Period," mandated by ICANN for global registries such as .com (managed by Verisign), .org (managed by PIR), and so on. This is a five-day period in which a registrar may delete a just-registered domain and get a refund of the registry fee.
Speculators have figured out how to use this feature to register domains, publish them with many advertising links, and then evaluate which are promising enough to keep.
The trick is to find the ones that users are likely to hit through a typo, at which point they will see the ads.
Note, the main motivation isn't so much for domain-squatting (though that is of course profitable), but for ad-revenue. Often, a domain that doesn't satisfy income/click requirements will be released before the end of the grace period, as jayder observed.

It been going of for a long time, as has the practise of 'tasting' domains people do whois lookups on. I second
posted by MetaMonkey at 4:27 PM on July 24, 2006

[oops, hit post instead of preview]

... schwa's advice Do not search for a domain name you're not prepared to immediately buy.

There is also the option of using domainsbot to see the availability of similar domains, without doing a specific whois that could be tracked.
posted by MetaMonkey at 4:30 PM on July 24, 2006

davey_darling: simply typing a domain name into your browser's address bar isn't a reliable way of checking if a domain is available or not. All this will tell you is if there is a web site set up on that domain. It cannot tell you whether or not the domain has been registered.

For example, it is possible (and relatively common) to register a domain yet not associate it with any site. Visitors to the domain would see a "Server not found" error, yet they would be unable to register it.

The only reliable way to check a domain's availability is via WHOIS or one of the web interfaces. So, whilst it is possible that you have been domain-gazumped, there was no guarantee that your chosen domain was available when you first checked.
posted by blag at 4:51 PM on July 24, 2006

It's because scum bag advertisers snap up the domains and put those fake 'search engines' (sponsored links) up.

Trash like that sucks. Problem is that the registrars have little incentive to change the behaviour because then they can say "Look, we have 987,647,268,569,691 domains and happy customers!"
posted by drstein at 4:54 PM on July 24, 2006

I so wish I had time to respond to this. I was just at HostingCon last week and had very interesting conversations with a couple of registrars and domain name based businesses. There's some interesting things going on out there.

Will try to remember to come back after my flight and fill y'all in.
posted by FlamingBore at 5:33 PM on July 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sorry to pile on, but I have a follow-up question. Three business days ago I did a search for a potential domain name. it was not taken. I did not buy it. (I had not read this thread yet obviously). The question is: Is the 5 day try-buy period business days or calendar days? I do not want to click on the domain in case it has been squatted upon (tasted). I will register the name(s) as soon as I think the grace period is up.

What would y'all do? Is the tasting period 5 business days or calendar days?

Thanks. Johnny
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:52 PM on July 24, 2006

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