Help Combat Domaineering

The latest craze among the money-mongers and their ilk is Domaineering. Domaineering is the business of buying up many domains with specific names (such as “cellphones.com” or “eatingdisorders.com”), relying on the fact that 15% (or more!) of browsers use “Direct Navigation” (typing a search term or web address in directly) in order to get to their destination.

Imagine two people, both wanting to find information about a Nokia cellphone
Person A goes to Google and types “cellphones” and gets a list of sites.
Person B just types “cellphones” into the URL bar, and the browser automatically tries appending “.net”, “.com”, etc. until it gets a successful hit.

These domains that the domaineers purchase are used as revenue generators by having paid advertisements on them. When you go to one of these sites and click on one of their links, they get paid a stipend EVERY TIME someone clicks, anywhere from a few pennies to a few dollars!

But why is this bad?
The bottom line here is that by supporting these individuals, you’re supporting their business practice. But what’s so bad about it? They’re just entrepreneurs, right?
Sort of. There can only ever be one “cellphones.com” or “eatingdisorders.com”, which means that in order for anyone else to acquire that domain, they have to pay the current owner (if it’s already registered) a very large sum of money to get the owner to part with it. But the current owner isn’t contributing anything worthwhile to the internet at large by having these sites!

Imagine that you lived in a town where there were a bunch of businesses of all kinds: Mom and pop stores, corporate stores, chain stores, franchises, etc. Normally, when we want to locate a particular business to meet a particular need, we look in the yellow pages (google), ask friends we may have (email), or just go browsing around.

But in this fictitious town, there are people all over the streets, wearing large signs that hawk certain product lines or items. If you approach them and ask about their Nike sneakers, they’ll point you over to one of several shoe stores nearby. When you walk into the store, the store immediately pays the person on the street for the reference.

Sounds helpful, right?

Now imagine that the streets are becoming more and more crowded with people pointing other people around, because everyone wants to get a piece of this action. And the sidewalk tiles (domain names) that people are standing on is coveted — if you want to stand there, even if it’s just to stand in the shade or to stand around and talk to your friends, you have to pay them a lot of money to leave.

Are you starting to see why this is a problem?

What’s worse is that more and more people are jumping on this bandwagon, which means that more and more people are putting up useless sites with ONLY ADVERTISING LINKS!!! The CEO of MySpace has started talking about integrating more “Web 2.0″ content (social networking, aggregate news services, etc.) into these domaineering projects, which means that the wolf is just donning a different outfit. Those sites will appear useful at first, but then you’ll realize that all the sites are all sharing the same news items, the same social networking tools, etc.

I may sound like I’m being apocalyptic, but it’s already happening! Some individuals make millions of dollars a year, own HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of domain names, and contribute useful content to NONE of them. (unless you count advertisements as useful)

So what can I do?
» Use search engines. Don’t type stuff directly into the URL bar unless you are typing a URL. (i.e. type “nokia.com” not “cellphones” into your URL bar)
» If you get to one of those “ad-only” pages, don’t click on the ads. I rarely click on ads at all because they always like to popup new windows.
» Don’t participate. As much as the lure of money may attract you, the ethics of this industry are very questionable. (These people are in the same boat as Spammers and Telemarketers in my book)
» Don’t buy domains from Domainers. If you’re registering a domain, do it through a proper registrar, don’t do a domain transfer.

If you’re feeling more devious, here are some other things you could consider doing to disrupt the model a bit more (This is more for the geeky-types):
Write a script that sends a deluge of clicks through a particular ad click. “But Wait!”, you may ask “Didn’t you just say to not click on these links, because it was supporting them?”. Yes indeed I did. However many advertising Pay-per-click services get really mad when people try to drum up extra cash by falsely generating clicks. So why not help them along their way to frauding? Send 10,000 or so clicks to each ad on a given page, and do that for many different pages. As far as I know, there isn’t a law saying you aren’t allowed to click a whole bunch of times. Since you don’t directly work for the person getting paid, you aren’t really acting in conflict of interest, but I really doubt the ad people will feel comfortable paying out all that much.

Bottom line: Stop Domaineering and Cyber-Squatting