Saturday, September 23, 2006

Web is No Bottomless Pit For Name Seekers

Such a huge number of registered names are making it increasingly likely that the Web address you or your organization is thinking of already belongs to someone else.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006
By Corilyn Shropshire - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The hundred or so members of the secretive young Pittsburgh up-and-comers club "Forge & Flask" had hoped to launch, a Web site showing their support for Mayor Bob O'Connor during his struggle with cancer.

Only wasn't available. It was already registered to someone else, in Florida, who after four years had yet to launch the Web site.

The group's second choice,, wasn't available, either.

So the club eventually settled on - and professed to be perfectly happy with it. "It sounds better," spokesman F. Dok Harris said.

Forge & Flask's experience represents what many companies and organizations are discovering. The World Wide Web is running out of names - or at least the most popular names that end with a suffix., and other suffixes still have plenty of room to grow. They just aren't all that popular.

"Even though we have .net, .org and .tv, people don't want to use those," said Cynthia Closkey, who runs the Butler, Pa.-based Web design and marketing firm Big Big Design.

Some 70 million Web domain names already have been claimed, according to, which monitors domain names that are registered in line with guidelines established by the global nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Such a huge number of registered names are making it increasingly likely that the Web address you or your organization is thinking of already belongs to someone else.

In some cases, the owner of a Web site could be holding it hostage - known as "cybersquatting," in which an entrepreneur hangs onto a Web address in hopes of selling it to the highest bidder.

Others might be "typo-squatting" - using a similar or misspelled version of your Web address to direct you to their less-than-upstanding Web site. This is a frequent practice of peddlers of pornography, for instance.

Take the typically family-friendly Pittsburgh-based organization Animal Friends.

The animal rescue group can be reached at, but throngs of people in search of the sweet-faced dog or cat to adopt have stumbled across a pouty-faced brunette displaying her schoolgirl panties at the nearly identical

"It's an unfortunate nuisance," according to spokeswoman Jolene Miklas, but it hasn't kept anyone from adopting pets or making donations.

Still, Animal Friends has made several futile attempts to buy from its California-based owner, who has yet to put the Web address on the market.

In an age in which Web image is everything, this shortage of marketable domain names has forced businesses and other groups to opt for less-than-desirable alternatives, such as the more cumbersome that Animal Friends has opted for as a secondary way to reach it via the Web.

Such Web addresses that are difficult to remember, or do not adequately describe the brand, are increasingly common and can affect the site's Web traffic, said George DiCarlo, vice president of marketing at Vancouver, Wash.-based Web hosting and marketing firm, Dotster Inc.

That's because the more desirable, easy-to-remember, one-word Web addresses with a suffix, have already been scooped up.

It's a scenario that in part is what keeps Closkey and other Web image gurus in business. They see it as their job to deliver cleverly crafted Web addresses that nail the image their client aims to project.

For them, the seeming dearth of domain names is nothing new - it's merely an opportunity for them to unleash their creative prowess.

"I can't tell you how many cool names I've thrown out just because they aren't available," said the chief of Web marketing firm ImageBox Productions John Mahood, who is both annoyed and intrigued by the challenge of drumming up both offbeat, yet meaningful Web addresses for his clients.

He disputes the notion that Web domain names are vanishing. While 90 percent of the possible Web domain names that emerge from a brainstorming session with his clients and staff may already be taken, it's his job to come up with one that isn't. "It's what keeps me in business," Mahood said.

Web marketers say avoiding a Web domain horror story means having your laptop in front of you as you name your business or group. "Part of why I named my company Big Big Design is because that domain name was available," said Closkey.

The team at Strip-District based Web design firm Wall-To-Wall Studios considered themselves fortunate by only having to barter services - not shell out money - to secure the rights to

Senior Interactive Designer Don Charlton said that four years ago, the firm created a logo for California-based owner of in exchange for the rights to the Web address.

A cottage industry has emerged from cybersquatting, with enterprising individuals and even some Web hosting firms staking a claim on words, names and phrases they think could eventually bring top dollar.

It's a business model that Wall-to-Wall's Charlton and other Web marketers have deemed murky. "You can create a price that's so ridiculous that no one's going to pay for it," he said.

"I wonder how people like that can sleep at night," added Closkey.

But others have found it lucrative.

DiCarlo, at Dotster, said the Vancouver firm has amassed an inventory of about 300,000 Web domain names that start at $200 and can go well into the thousands, depending upon how much the buyer is willing to pay.

He likened the wide world of Web domains to Internet real estate. "You go to them with a starting price and then you negotiate," he said.