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July 19, 2006

Domain Names — It's true: 'All the good ones have been taken'


Lee Gomes's entertaining and informative column in today's Wall Street Journal explores the truth behind the old saw.

FunFact: "A domain can have, at most, 63 characters."

Who knew?

Here's the piece.

    All the Good Ones Have Been Taken — In Domain Names, Too

    It's hardly secret knowledge, though perhaps only Dennis Forbes has seen it in all its glory.

    There are roughly 47 million domain names that end with ".com," making that space the biggest and most prestigious piece of real estate on the Internet. Getting a URL listed as a dot-com involves, ultimately, checking in with a database at Verisign, the Mountain View, Calif., company that keeps tabs on the dot-com world, the way your state's DMV knows about which cars have which license plates.

    If you know who at Verisign to ask, you can get the complete dot-com list. Mr. Forbes, an analyst at Vastardis Capital Services, a New York mutual-fund service company, got it and has since made a hobby of studying the list, something he does in his spare time. He has, in the process, become the world's pre-eminent domainologist.

    His findings ought to be relevant to aspiring Web entrepreneurs everywhere. For the rest of us, they are an amusement. (Registering a dot-com domain costs around $9 a year. After the initial registration period is purchased, you have to re-register the name or risk losing it to someone else.)

    Most people trying to do business online will tell you that the good domain names are already taken. Mr. Forbes's research proves them out. For example, for every possible two-character and three-character combination -- including both letters and numbers -- all possible domains are taken. Virtually all English words with four letters are claimed; those that aren't are usually contractions, and Web rules don't allow apostrophes.

    All of the 1,000 most common English words have been snatched up. The word "a" appears more than any other, though most of the time, of course, it's just a letter in a longer word. The least-used common word is "consonant," Mr. Forbes says, which is in just 42 domains, including "consonantpain.com," which isn't a misspelling but a word game.

    Mr. Forbes checked the U.S. Census Bureau's 1,219 most-common male names, the 2,841 most-common female names and the 10,000 most-common surnames; all were booked. Not only that, but when you link the top 300 first names with the top 300 last names, 89% of the resulting combinations are taken for male names and 84% for female ones.

    Beyond single-letter words like "a," it's hard to say what is the most common word in all the URLs. It's the same for all short words that tend to be portions of other words. The most common word four letters or longer, though, is "home"; 719,000 domains have some sort of home in them. Given the economics of the Web, chances are that many of those involve refinancing: 114,700 URLs mention "mortgage," which is more than discuss "science," "nature" or "children."

    Because you might be curious, "sex" appears in 257,000 domains. It may be tied to one of the most popular uses of the Web, but the word itself is only the 89th most-popular in dot-com domains. Incidentally, what is perhaps the naughtiest English word -- the one with four letters -- appears nearly 38,000 times.

    So smutty is so much of the Web, that often the best way to figure out what a certain word might be doing in a domain is to think of the most indecent activity you could possibly imagine associated with that word. The word "imagine," for instance, appears in 3,700 URLs, one of which asks us to imagine a certain actress without her clothes.

    Half of all domains are between nine and 15 characters long; the average length is 13. A domain can have, at most, 63 characters, and there are 550 such domains. In fact, some people have made a haiku-like art out of 63-character domain names.

    "I hope you have a pen and paper handy cause this is a crazy long domain name man," says one. (Spaces have been added in the interest of readability.) "Did you know that you can only have sixty-three characters in a domain name?" asks another.

    There are other oddities in this fringe world of hyperlong domains. For example, each of the 26 letters of the alphabet has a domain in which the letter is repeated 63 times until there is no room left.

    While much has been made of domain names like business.com being bought and sold for millions of dollars, Mr. Forbes is dubious about the value of expensive domains. Most people now search for Web sites using a descriptive word or phrase, or else are introduced to a site by a friend or colleague who emails the URL. So, domains don't need to be short and snappy the way they had to be in the earliest days of the Web.

    A large percentage of these domains don't even have working Web sites attached to them. So why do people bother to register them? Besides whimsy, Mr. Forbes credits a lingering spirit of bubble-era speculation -- however improbable it may be.

    "Someone out there," he said, "is still hoping that someone will come along and form a corporation called uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.com, and when that happens, they will be sitting on a gold mine and will reap the rewards."

July 19, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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I found this study very interesting and funny. I never thought on the most or least used word or a letter in a domain name. I see know that there are people who care about things that seem to be insignificant but they are very important.

Posted by: Bill | Aug 25, 2006 3:31:35 PM

This is simply not true. There are thousands of good domains left. It depends what you're looking for. Single words are all gone. 3-4 letters are gone. Other than that, there are many that you can grab up. I just got CustomizedTechnology.com a few days ago, which IMO is a pretty good name.

All the good names aren't taken... yet.

Posted by: Flash Sandbox | Jul 19, 2006 8:13:44 PM

http://abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz.com is even taken - and it's not a real site either. (Some kindergarten teacher somewhere is fretting over this, wishing she would have gotten on the stick a few years back.)

But sometimes little pearls do come to the swine...usually when you're not really looking for it for any real reason (which describes half of my adventures on the Web). Last year, I found that www.hownottogetrich.com was not yet taken and I bought it. (I'm doing pretty good so far and may be ready to present myself as an expert in the field a few years from now!) ;)

Posted by: Shawn Lea | Jul 19, 2006 5:38:16 PM

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