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Ask HN: Is a .net domain good enough?
43 points by klon on Jan 19, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments
I'm trying to find a good name for a startup I'm working on and think I've finally found one that is really good. The problem is I've only managed to secure the .net domain for it. The .com is taken by a domain squatter who is not replying to my emails. Should I proceed with the name or continue looking?

Can we not call everyone who holds domains squatters? Just because they don't:

* answer your emails

* you don't see anything on the page

* there are currently advertisements showing

* won't sell for 10$ because that's registration fee

doesn't make them a squatter. A cybersquatter is someone infringing on your trademark. In almost every case I see, the people calling someone a squatter are simply pissed off that the domain they want is taken and they have no legitimate rights or claim to it, other than they thought of it just now and think they can do something better with it.


I agree, it is the same thing as buying a piece of land and waiting for the area to become more popular and sell later...

The issue comes from the fact that buying domains are very cheap and easy, but that's other problem.

*btw, I am not saying that I approve people with 1000s of domains just waiting for someone interested, but the business idea is the same.

Intentionally provocative question: So you think domain squatting is ethical if it's done occasionally and unsystematically, but not if it's done in an efficient and industrious manner?

If we use the real definition, it doesn't matter, if you break trademark law, you break trademark law.

Your definition doesn't match how I usually see the term used, so I don't understand how it's the real one. Sure, it's written into law that way, but legal jargon doesn't supersede actual widespread usage except in a legal context. When people say "domain squatting" or "cybersquatting," they mean speculatively buying and holding a domain with no intention of using it, hoping to sell it later when it becomes valuable to someone else. (And no, putting up a generic advertising search page does not qualify as "using" it for the purposes of this definition.)

Then what is 'using'? Please define it and think about the implications for domain name registrations at all levels.

they thought of it just now and think they can do something better with it

It's not hard to do better than a landing page. "Domainers" make the web a less usable place overall - they've caused the growth of non .com domains and weird spellings and names, eg flickr.

Who here has ever clicked on a landing page?

millions of people.

The goal of a landing page is to optimize to users' interests. Therefore, it shows advertising for the most suited (ctrppc) advertiser. It is quite an effective mechanism to direct traffic to the person most willing to pay for it. It's that brilliance and scale which I personally think is the end of the domaining industry (won't explain, will write a long article... soon).

So back to your argument of 'doing better': that is a VERY slippery slope. When you start to say one use is more* legitimate than another you are essentially censoring free speech. If I own cars.com and just want to picture of my dog who is called Car, is that wrong? What if I only use the domain for email and redirect all the traffic because I don't want to do anything. The minute you say you can 'do better' you are taking your own beliefs and subjecting everyone else to them.

Landing pages are for people that don't know how or want to use Google or some other search engine - I'm talking about those moronic pages that look like a whole page of ad-sense links have been inserted: landing pages are not websites really: it's the same backend code and server applied to one's whole portfolio, right, changed on a domain-by-domain basis according to the type-in?

Keyword landing pages are a scourge, not some great expression of free-speech. They stifle economic growth.

Have you got a portfolio of ghost patents too?

Yes, just because you couldn't register that great domain name you no longer have an idea worth pursuing. I guess we can call 'ability to find a domain name' a good filter for finding real entrepreneurs.

My guess is that in your 7 years of domaining you've pissed off more people than you've made happy, overall.

That's a nice story.

There's a fine line between being a 'prospector' and 'squatter'. What would you call MerchantCircle who is registering domains with local business names and setting up their own mini-sites that divert traffic from the real site and confuse consumers? I think there's an even worse term reserved for them.

If they are registering names that people DO have rights to and they do not, that IS cybersquatting. They should pursue them under ACPA in US and get up to $100,000 in damages per name. But consult a lawyer first, I don't know MerchantCircle and I am not an affected customer.

Same discussion as Patent squatters (or land/copyright/or many more).

They take over a resource that can produce value and prevent that value to be passed to people. All in the hopes of monetizing on it.

I can only hope that in the future, holding a resource hostage without exploiting it, will cause it to be revoked.

Alright maybe I didn't word that very well but the current owner has a boilerplate ad page with related keyword ads which leads me to believe he has no plans to make anything of the name. What do we call those?

The industry term is domainer or domain investor. You would be amazed how much money some of those can make, often more than any sort of development. For a scalable model, it has worked quite well in the past, which is what allowed people to amass 100,000's of names.

PS - if you actually have a budget to try and purchase the name, I might be able to help you get in contact. my username .info to contact me.

I've always thought of a domain squatter as someone who holds domains for the sole purpose of selling them (and maybe selling generic ads on them while they wait for a buyer). I'm not saying that's all bad, but it can be a little annoying.

That's exactly the thing I am trying to inform people is wrong. I understand it's not a very popular industry, I've been in it for many, and I don't blame anyone for hating it. However, a squatter infringes trademarks, they are breaking intellectual property laws. Simply buying a lot of names doesn't make someone a squatter, hence it's a very touchy subject to be painted with the same brush. I hope you understand.

I understand that you're taking advantage of a situation for profit, which is probably a rough definition of capitalism. I can't say I would above it, myself. But it won't last forever, right or wrong. The domain system wasn't created for what the internet has become, and it's unnecessary given the search engine. Even TLDs are unnecessary.

So google should hold the key to everyone's access to everything? Direct Navigation is still more important in most parts of the world than the search engine from a company's perspective. How would I google to email you? What would I put on a business card? How do I tell you to get to our website in a commercial?

I discourage it. People will always look for you (and worse still, send you mail) at the dot com. And there are lots of decent dot com names still available.

It depends on who your audience is. Few of the python programmers I know realize that python.com is a porn site. Remembering that it is python.org a not .com is not that hard, and if in doubt most people use Google anyway. EDIT: okay, maybe not that unbeknown given the amount of comments below.

I used to work with a lady who I thought should learn Python. I was very explicit in telling her that it was python.ORG.

Guess who got a bunch of dirty looks the next day for sending a co-worker to a porn site?

Wouldn't that also depend on the target audience of the site? If a site was targeted at the same people that use HN for example, I doubt they'd have a problem with the site using a .net

What if they only sort of peripherally remember the name? It's about finding it, rather than using it.

Most people (even geeks) use google to find a site they don't remember the exact url for, and google does a very good job at finding that url, regardless if there is a .com with the same name.

Eg. searching for 'python' gets you python.org as 1st result. You don't want to go to the .com

Because a ton of people link to python.org. Your startup most likely will not have that advantage.

Also, I wonder how many people (say, someone's boss), heard about this cool Python language and just tried python.com. Oops.

Single data point: I had not seen python.com before this, and have been programming in Python for a few years.

Somehow I also remember it's php.ne, not .com, even though I haven't visited that site so much lately.

But both of these were already an established internet brand when I started using them.

Well, Gruber has daringfireball.net and .com

I agree with pg. If your site is targeted to mainstream, as opposed to geeks or early adopters, you would have to fight really hard to go against default mind-share people will have for dot com. Remember, many people still don't know "what is a browser?" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4MwTvtyrUQ

I have multi-personality disorder on this question. The SEO in me says "I would take a strong, exact match .NET over a weak .COM every day of the week and twice on Sunday." For example, if you want to do restaurant scheduling, restaurantscheduling.net is better than servrschedulr.com or whatever the convention is these days.

However, I don't think exact-match domain names are the answer for everybody on this forum. I like them and swear by them, but a lot of y'all have goals which would be better served by something brandable, even if it does sound like twitpickr.ly.

PG mentions that people will always look for you at the dot com. This is true, but the dot com they're looking for you at is google.com, because direct navigation is dead. The ascendancy of search engines, broadening of the Internet away from technical Americans, increasing use of mobile devices, etc etc etc, have killed it convincingly.

As always, check your stats if you don't believe me.

This is something that I started noticing a few months ago myself. Almost all of the non-technical people I know have stopped using their address bar in exchange for using Google's search box when they want to go somewhere.

If I say to go to foobar.com, they'll open their browser, either go to their home page or type in google.com, then type foobar.com into Google's search box, search, and then click on the first link.

When I've asked, they've almost all said that it was "easier" than typing in the address. I'm talking about tens of people... it's very strange, but I've certainly been seeing what you're talking about first-person.

I have the same experience. It seems strange in the age of address bars with searchable history and automatic search that people are still going out of their way to go to a URL they already know.

direct navigation isn't really dead at all. As someone who has been involved in buying domains for 7 years, I can attest it still exists. However, this is only true of your real generics. Anything you hand register today won't be a type in, far from it.

Furthermore, there is always a tradeoff between generic/brandable. A few large companies have gotten away with the generic (Hotels.com for example) but most take the brand route because in the long run there is more value/protection. You need to decide based on your goals and timeframe.

Exact match domains are overrated, unless you're going for long-tail keywords with little competition like Patrick.

Spend a few hours with AjaxWhois.com and find a workable .com. You'll be glad you did later.

AjaxWhois just posted my sample domain search to godaddy. Sounds like a great way to get the pricejacked up.

If by "posted to GoDaddy" you mean showed you a registration link?

No idea what you're talking about. I've been using AjaxWhois for years, there's nothing shady going on.

No idea why this is confusing to you: 1) http://ajaxwhois.com/ 2) Type something in the big box, say "wtf" 3) Hit enter

Expected: Big box returns search results on ajaxwhois

Actual: Redirect to godaddy.com w/ query results for my search. Hey, wtfsite.com is available for only $11!

I'm not sure why this had to turn rude.

1) You don't need to hit enter, it looks up the domain as you type. Pressing enter to be redirected to GoDaddy is a convenience. There's a bunch of other useful shortcuts too, like Ctrl + S.

2) I have no idea why you think looking up a domain on GoDaddy will cause the price to go up, or someone to buy it out from under you, or whatever else you've dreamt up. Must be leftover paranoia from the Moniker fiasco a couple years ago?

Either way, I'm done with this conversation.

Glad you're taking the high road and not doing any further sniping at me (lol).

In case you are genuinely unsure why someone might not trust godaddy: http://www.webhostingtalk.com/showthread.php?t=915150&hi...

Apologies for my earlier tone. It seems there is some genuine confusion here.

Thanks for posting the link, it confirms my suspicion re: leftover paranoia from the Moniker fiasco. A couple of years ago Moniker was buying domains their customers searched and then trying to ransom them. It was a huge issue at the time, but Moniker was the only big registrar engaging in the practice and has since stopped.

Moniker is owned by Network Solutions. Although the OP on this thread claims he only searched on GoDaddy, its hard to believe GoDaddy would be pinging their chief competitor with domaining tips. The much simpler answer is he used Moniker at some point in the process, or that Heart Internet is a Moniker affiliate.

FWIW, the reason so many people fell for this is that Moniker had a really nice bulk WHOIS tool at this time. But no one buys domains from NetSol because they rip you off, so they would use the tool to find domains and then go reg them @ GoDaddy. That's when they would discover that Moniker had bought the domain and was trying to extort them. Apparently some people did not understand the distinction between GoDaddy and Moniker, and shot the messenger instead.

I'm not here to defend GoDaddy, although in this case they've done nothing wrong, so much as to refute an unfounded accusation made against a site I like (AjaxWhois). Nothing personal.

No offense taken, and sorry if any was given. I did not know about Moniker. Thanks for the info -- very interesting and helpful.

Failure to secure the dot com cost us $400,000 at auction (plus legal fees over 10 years): I really can't recommend you try and build a brand without it. Even bit.ly owns bitly.com.

I'd recommend against it. I worked for a company that was named akin to "example.net" Nearly every week, we'd get a call from someone who went to "examplenet.com" and didn't know why we were suddenly selling skateboards.

On the flip side, I host net-benefits.net as a favor to friends in the debating community, and every week I get an email from somebody attempting to get into, e.g., Prudential's online insurance portal Net Benefits, because they Googled the name on their benefits statement. (There are about four places on the Internet that thought this would be a clever name for their insurance/investing portal.)

I posted a similar question a couple of days ago here:


I'm curious how much it really matters. I can see it being a big deal for email, but for organic traffic I'm not convinced. Most domain squatters don't have anything up on the site, have a adsense landing page or something extremely outdated. Assuming your site has even mild success, your search engine ranking will be much, much higher. Sadly, the email issue is probably a show-stopper.

Also, I don't think a lot of people actually type the domain in the address bar. They're either clicking a link or searching.

The real question here is, can you pull a dropbox? Trademark the name, launch your site, get popular, then just take away the .com if the owner somehow infringes on your mark. Is this a valid precedent or do you have to have boat-loads of cash to actually make this work?

In any case, it's probably just easier to choose a different name. I just emailed someone yesterday about a .com domain name and he wanted $20k. Seems like the dropbox method might be easier.

On the premise that you are expecting your start-up to be a success you should look for another domain and you should register the .com, .net .org .info etc... Besides your application you will be building a brand don't share it with a domain squatter and don't pay for a name over what is reasonable.

I disagreed with this statement because there are plenty of successful sites that has other dots besides .com. It's all depend on your application. If your application is useful, then people will come. For example, when I registered my website, http://www.mathmaster.org, the .dot com and everything else were taken but now I am still doing ok in term of visitor counts. Majority of my users come from either bookmarked or search engine anyway.

What happens when the domain squatter decide to persuade you (to buy the .com domain) by uploading porn?

Risks should be properly taken care of when building a brand.

I saw that recently on an innocuous kids site. A domain with a different tld, was a hard core porn site. Ouch.

I don't think that was a squatter it was just rather unfortunate. Unless that is a trend?

Re niyazpk's comment on squatters and porn, I have been unpleasantly surprised by the .com version of .other sites that I use.

It could be interesting to look at Dropbox's story. Didn't they secure dropbox.com only recently?

Yes, but prior to that they used getdropbox.com, not dropbox.net (or something of that ilk). I do believe they were able to lawyer a squatter into releasing the dropbox.com domain after they were proven successful.

You would think that being successful makes it harder to get the domain back, since the squatter knows the real stakes.

What are the legal grounds for "lawyering" him into releasing the domain?

I guess Dropbox ended up taking legal action against dropbox.com when they started placing ads for Dropbox's competitors. As a result, the domain holder ended up handing the domain over (no mention of purchase in the article).


I never had a problem remembering Dropbox's URL, but that's because it was the somewhat unusual get<whatever>.com rather than a more easily confused .net.

I would go to dropbox.com, then realize it wasn't there, then Google it. Your customers may do the same.

If your product is a development tool targeted at .NET developers, then yes. Otherwise No. It looks bad, and nobody will remember it.

If you want to be a real business, you need a .com domain name. That's just the way it goes. Register the .net and .org variants of your name if they're available, but definitely run your site off a .com.

I'd go .com whenever possible, at the cost of choosing a slightly different name.

37signals http://campfirenow.com/ (instead of http://campfire.com/) is a typical illustration.

Or consider Dropbox that started at getdropbox.com before obtaining dropbox.com.

When you are a startup with no money, I would say buy the .net first only if you could foresee buying the .com in the future when you do have the money. Example of this would be if the .net was available and the .com domain was owned by a squatter and is willing to sell it for $2k to $5k.

I wouldn't by a .net domain where the .com is already owned by an established company because you probably won't be able to buy it in the future.

If you decide to look for another domain, someone posted a pretty cool app to Ycombinator called nxdom.com it is worth taking a look.

In my personal experience, I say go for a few domains and direct them to an alpha of your site with no branding. Then ask your alpha testers what they prefer, and if they can remember your url. There are some popular .net sites boingboing is the first thing that comes to my mind.

The short answer is no.

The only time you should use the .net is if you have secured all the other TLDs and the .net is the best choice for branding or marketing.

-- the .net is the best choice for branding or marketing.

I agree which is why, we need more information before making a recommendation as to what is the best course of action. If you are going to rely on word of mouth and a grass roots ground swell then you need a memorable name and I would say that the .com is very important.

If you are going to rely on advertising buys and blogger who will be linking to your site then the domain name is less important.

The comment about the squatter uploading porn to strong arm you is a very valid concern. If you are in a business where there could be confusion and that could reflect poorly on you then I would avoid the name all together.

In a nutshell, nope. If your startup takes off, part of your traffic (the type-in kind) will go to the .com, where it'll be a parked page full of Google or Yahoo ads, and will make the domain owner money.

Move on and find something else.

I can help you with finding an alternate domain.

I've had the exact same problem very often and always ended up with something more imaginative, and practically better each time, once I start brainstorming.

Try combining two short normal words.

You could try using Sedo (domain name buy/sell website) to make them an offer for the domain name (or they may even have it listed there), or use Namejet to try to grab it once it expires.

I can only add that yes, it's a good idea to get the .com as well.

If you look at Slashdot, they didn't even bother with the .net (or they're struggling to get it), but they did register .org and .com

What're your thoughts on .IO domain names? e.g. http://braintrust.io

Have you tried the .us domain? I always suspected it's the next big landrush as so many of the .com names are gone.

[added] one example: script.aculo.us

If you really want the domain, then I would suggest that you go ahead with .net now, and later try to get the .com and link them to the same page.

To cite an example, Darren Rowse of Problogger initially started with problogger.net since the .com was with someone else ('squatter' as you call them). He started off the blog with the .net and later went on buying Problogger.com

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