- A website launching in early this month will monitor internet domain name registrations globally and allow corporations to back-order names that were previously owned by competitors or speculators.
Available at www.SnapNames.com, the new service is the first of its kind, according to industry watchers.
"Nobody else is even attempting to do what SnapNames does," says James Grady, associate analyst with Giga Information Group. "They'll have the first mover advantage for at least six months if not a year."
Every day, 10,000 domain name registrations expire, according to SnapNames. Sometimes names expire because the owners aren't using them; other times the owners forget to renew their registrations as in recent cases with Hotmail and JP Morgan. SnapNames monitors Domain Name System (DNS) traffic to identify expirations and instantly acquires names for companies that have preregistered them.
"The need for this kind of service is there," Grady says. "Companies are accidentally or negligently letting their domain names expire. SnapNames will notify them and help them get their names back."
Underpinning the SnapNames site is a real-time monitoring system for the Registry/Registrar Protocol used by VeriSign, the central registry for all domain names in .com, .net and .org, and its 60 accredited registrars. When one of the registrars sends an addition, deletion or modification to a DNS record, SnapNames receives a copy of that change and maintains its own comprehensive database of domain name registrations called Whois.
"We're an agnostic third-party like the companies that do credit reporting for the banking industry," SnapNames founder and CEO Ron Wiener explains. "We've gone to the registrars and said: 'If you participate in this system, everybody benefits.' Part of the deal is that they have to give us instant access to their Whois databases...We get that at no charge, and they get a percentage of the revenue we do."
So far, SnapNames is working with six registrars: Tucows; BulkRegister; eNom; Dotster; NetNames; and NamesDirect. Wiener says he is in discussions with VeriSign's Network Solutions division as well as Register.com.
SnapNames is offering domain name monitoring services targeted toward large corporations, website design shops and law firms specialising in intellectual property practices. SnapNames' initial services - now in beta mode - are:
Snap-Back Service, which monitors changes to a current name owners' DNS records and provides instant alerts to the owner or to the prospective owner. The service alerts owners if a domain name expires, is transferred to a different registrar, or is hijacked by another web server. If the domain name expires, SnapNames will buy it back on the current owner's or prospective owner's behalf. The service costs $US35 for three years per domain name.
Snap-Shot Service, which monitors changes to domain name registration records and provides weekly status reports but doesn't include automatic repurchases or back ordering. This service is designed for companies that want to track many names owned by competitors. The Snap-Shot Service for the first 20 domain names is free; a 100-name subscription costs $US20.
Both services take advantage of SnapNames' comprehensive searching capability that shows all the available top-level domains and multilingual variants of a particular name. The site provides a single order form for registering or backordering large volumes of domain names with partner registrars.
SnapNames will use its database of information about prospective domain name owners to facilitate auctions of inactive and expired domain names. Companies that participate in the Snap-Shot Service will be notified when a name they've been tracking is up for bid. SnapNames will take a cut of the proceeds for successful auctions.
"SnapNames has taken a different tack than the other services on the market," says Ross Rader, director of research and innovation at Tucows. "What they allow you to do is find your name and protect it. Once you've acquired a name, they help you hold on to it. And they help you auction it if you don't want it anymore."
The launch of SnapNames is part of a trend toward a growing secondary market for domain names. For example, VeriSign in October purchased GreatDomains.com, an auction site that helps owners resell their domain names.
"More money exchanges hands with the resale of a domain name, versus the sale of a new name," Grady points out. "You can buy new names for as low as $US15. Resale prices are much higher than that, although they are coming down."
Founded a year ago, SnapNames is a Portland, Oregan, start-up with 45 employees. The company received $US1.8 million in its first round of venture financing and now hopes to attract $uS2 million or more in its second round.
Overall, about 24 million domain names have been registered in .com, .net and .org. About 90% of those names are inactive, which is one cause of the high rate of expirations.