We created Domainr in order to make the process of naming online things easier — projects, companies, products, apps — and are thrilled that people all around the world are still using it for this, five years after we launched it.
Huge props to Connor Hindley for his work on it — like the iOS and Windows Phone apps before it, Connor hacked it together in his spare time and got in touch with us about possibly shipping it. According to Connor, who’s currently wrapping up his CS degree at Northern Illinois University, “A clean / straightforward API goes a long way.”
"Why did Dan Martell choose a .fm domain name for Clarity’s website?"
"Here’s the reason behind the Clarity.fm… I was using http://domai.nr/ to test different words that I felt were on topic, and I didn’t expect anything Clarity [dot] would be available, but when I saw Clarity.fm - I realized that it could work. The .fm represents the broadcast nature of the first version of the app when I use to share my link http://clarity.fm/danmartell on Twitter and take calls from my followers.”
"One thing I’ve seen over time is that domains - in the early days - don’t matter. Evan Williams made that argument here… So yeah, I didn’t want the .fm - I wanted a great word that would represent the essence of the product, and I couldn’t believe Clarity.fm was available for $70 bucks.”
"Now, the better question (which I won’t cover) is, should you have the extension in the logo ex: Clarity.fm, or not: Clarity. We did both, for me - it came down to a personal audio esthetic and I hated hearing "Clarity dot fm". It’s Clarity."
Comprehensiveness is one of our core product goals, and this collection of Registrar-Domain coverage is what makes Domainr’s search results both useful and actionable.
The directory currently lists 228 Registrars and Registries, most of which support domain registration. We also show how many top (and second) level domains they support, as well as whether or not they support IDN.
If you’re curious how profitable side projects work behind-the-scenes, be sure to check out this new eBook, Side Projects.
We’re excited that Domainr’s story was included, from our humble HTML + JS beginnings in 2008 (which @rr prototyped on @case's Mac Mini), to when @ceedub joined and we formed our LLC, to its current state as one of the web’s premier domain search destinations.
(Domainr v0 screenshot)
A few updates to the story told in the book:
re: the section about our team, “had two partners” = “have two partners,” as the three of us still actively work on Domainr together.
re: the tech stack, we finished our Ruby port earlier this year, so Domainr is currently a Rails app (hosted on Heroku) that uses a Node backend for doing DNS checks (also on Heroku).
And regarding Domainr’s API ecosystem, a bunch has happened beyond our iOS app, for example:
@connor got in touch with us about the Domainr Chrome extension he built, which led to his “nights and weekends” internship with us in San Francisco this summer — he’s since made API wrappers for Objective-C, Node and Python, as well as a CLI and Twitter bot.
Install it to search Domainr directly from Chrome, and use your Up and Down arrow keys to navigate search results — the Enter key will open a new tab with your search.
According to Google Analytics, Chrome is currently used by 55% of Domainr’s monthly visitors, so we’re excited to make it even easier to use inside Chrome — huge props to @connor for his work on the extension.
Scott built the app on top of Domainr’s API and contacted us with a few questions about it, and we asked if he’d be interested in open-sourcing it and publishing it as an official Domainr-branded app. Fortunately he was game — Thanks, Scott!
How to Acquire a Domain Name (That Someone Already Owns)
Background: We created Domainr almost four years ago, and since then many people have contacted us asking how to buy domain names that other people already own. We’ve not yet been through that process ourselves, so we asked our friend Julian Shapiro, founder of NameLayer, to write a guest post describing how it works — here’s Julian’s advice:
1) Direct Contact
If there are no contact details on the domain’s site, perform a WHOIS lookup using DomainTools.com. You’ll either be presented with the domain owner’s contact information, or you’ll be stone-walled by a “Privacy Protection” service. If the former, contact the owner using the fantastic advice recounted in the first comment on this blog post by Fred Wilson. If the latter, you can pay for a Whois History report at DomainTools, which will give you all the WHOIS records DomainTools has stored for the domain in question. Your goal is to find a point in time where the domain’s owner had not yet set up Privacy Protection, and therefore momentarily had his or her contact details publicized to some extent. You can then proceed to contact the owner, using the guidance from Fred’s blog post.
Direct contact means you can offer a non-standard payment. For example, if you get the owner’s email address through WHOIS, you can search for their email on Facebook, read their profile details, and get a sense for who they are and how you can appeal to them. (If it’s someone in the tech industry, you might offer shares in your company like Mint did or advertise their name in the footer of your site like Firefox did in the early days.)
You can bypass the major aftermarkets (Sedo and Afternic). When you’ve come close to finalizing a price with the owner, mention using Escrow.com instead. Sedo and Afternic charge around 20%, while Escrow’s fees are much more reasonable. (Escrow.com is what NameLayer uses for all its $2,000+ sales, and we’ve never had any issues with them.) This way the owner will ultimately keep so much more of the sale price, that it’s as if they’re being paid an extra 15% on top of the offer. It also hides the final sale price from public records, which for some people is incredibly important. Although Sedo (the largest domain aftermarket) might give you the option to hide the sale price, they’ll charge you to do it. Ultimately, using Escrow.com is a huge win that might tip the owner in favor of your lower offer.
If it’s a domain that receives a lot of offers, your email may just get lost in the noise. If you’re worried about your email going unnoticed, then consider using a brokerage service (discussed below), which will make your inquiry stand out. Brokerage programs require that the acquirer pay up-front fees, and brokers handle the transferring and escrow processes. It’s a huge bonus for the domain owner and they’ll consequently pay more attention to brokerage emails.
Use DomainTools.com to do a WHOIS lookup — it’ll tell you which registrar the domain is using. Visit that registrar’s website and search for their “Brokerage/Buy/Offer” service. The trick here is to always use the brokerage service of the registrar with which the domain is registered — this way the registrar knows how to contact the domain’s owner, even if the owner is using Privacy Protection. If for example you were to use GoDaddy’s service to contact the owner of a domain registered with Network Solutions (which has their own brokerage), GoDaddy might not be any more effective at getting in touch with owner than you yourself.
See Cons in the previous section.
The corresponding registrar actually knows the domain owner’s contact details.
You hide your identity as the buyer. (Then again, you could also just create a random @yahoo or @gmail email address for the sake of making a Direct Contact.)
You’ll pay a fee to use the service.
The buyer will see your formal approach as a sign that you have money to spend. They’ll wind up haggling harder and you will pay more on average.
3) Legal Claim
If you believe you’re legally entitled to the ownership of a domain because it infringes on a trademark that you registered prior to the domain’s registration, or because they are misrepresenting themselves as you, or for a few other reasons, consider exploring the UDRP. Read through both of those links thoroughly before you proceed with this option, as it will cost you time, energy and money, and you might not win.
You’ll pay nothing besides the UDRP fees in order to acquire the domain.
If the UDRP decision ends in your favor, you’re almost guaranteed to acquire the domain.
If the UDRP decision is not in your favor, the owner will have largely “proven” the validity of their ownership and will accordingly be stubborn when haggling with you for it, because they know that you won’t be able to easily fall back on legal action.
Domainr's new development environment -- Installing GCC 4.2, Ruby 1.9.3 & gem dependencies on Mac OS X Lion
We’re almost done with Domainr’s infrastructural overhaul: we’re moving from Python & Django on App Engine to Ruby 1.9.3 and Rails 3.1 — we’ll discuss the reasons for this in a later post.
We ran into a few development environment hiccups while working on the port, so Cameron made this gist to automate setting up our general dependencies. The last mile just connects our Ruby application server to Nginx’s reverse proxy. Here are some highlights:
Use the --with-gcc=clang flag in order to install Ruby 1.9.3 via RVM on Mac OS X Lion.
You may need gcc-4.2 (not to be confused with XCode 4.2) for database drivers or gems that don’t build properly under clang/llvm, so he’s included a homebrew formula to download, compile and install it.
"Tuvalu’s GDP is so tiny — about US$37 million — that a line item on the budget measures sales of national stamps and coins to collectors… Royalties from the sale of the domain name, which by last year was used by about 110,000 Web sites, could reap Tuvalu US$40 million in a decade. Such funds largely paid for the 2002 tar-sealing and lighting of the roads on Funafuti."
Huge props to our good friend Sahil Desai, who built the app in his spare time because he wanted an easy way to search for domains from his iPhone. In fact, he reached out to us back in 2009 about building the app, which prompted Randy to build out Domainr’s API for this exact sort of use. Thank you, @Sahil!
Domainr’s search results now show vowel-stripped “shortened domains,” which have become quite popular recently thanks to services like Bitly and Awe.sm.
Domainr does its best to show whether or not it’s possible to register a domain, but many NICs and Registrars have their own rules for things like minimum # of characters in a domain, etc. If you encounter an error in Domainr’s search results, please let us know in the forum and we’ll get it fixed asap.
Kelly over at Hunch has done some investigative digging into one of their affiliate relationships that was mysteriously not converting. Domainr and Hunch share an affiliate-based business model, where both are search sites trying to help people find what they’re looking for:
"We signed up to the Best Buy affiliate program through Commission Junction, and tested Best Buy links in several topics for which we already had a history of strong post-click conversions. While CJ’s reporting platform showed nearly the same ad impressions and affiliate clicks for BestBuy as we tracked internally, CJ reported not just a lower post-click conversion rate than we had historically seen, but actually zero. Several more days went by, clicks were still flowing to Best Buy, but they reported zero resulting sales."
"We decided to test this by buying some merchandise ourselves. Two of our employees, on two different days, followed Hunch affiliate links to Best Buy and then bought something. CJ still showed no sales activity. Houston, we have a problem."
Long story short, Kelly uncovered a huge snafu with Best Buy’s affiliate service, and Hunch promptly discontinued their relationship with them. While we’ve yet to do this digging through Domainr’s logs, we’re curious what we’d uncover. And more broadly, Kelly highlights the inherent need for trust in the system:
"Bottom line: for cpa-driven affiliate relationships to work, there has to be trust and reliability in the system for accurate post-click reporting and payments. So it’s disheartening when even a big brand like Best Buy can have such a complete failure in their affiliate model, as we experienced above."
"One implication of all this: I would gladly pay a 3rd party to conduct “real transaction” audits on the sites with whom I have an affiliate relationship. I’m not talking about click matching, but actually buying a low-priced physical good from time to time (and perhaps then returning it later for a refund). This approach couldn’t be efficiently scaled to take representative frequent samples for a given affiliate, but still, at low volume it could potentially identify the most egregious offenders. Because as we found out with Best Buy, where there was smoke, there was fire."
We agree wholeheartedly. Thanks for posting about your research, Kelly!
The popular Domainr service comes as easy and clean as it gets. They call themselves a “domain name search engine” and solely focus on the domain search experience. Searching for a domain name is very intuitive and fast indeed. If you found a name you can choose from a list of registrars where you can register the respective domain.
Apart from the standard .COM, .NET & .ORG domains, Domainr’s strength is surely the ability to find domain hacks with exotic country code top-level domain extensions e.g. burri.to (.TO - Tonga), lifestrea.ms (.MS - Montserrat) or cli.gs (South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands).
Domainr makes the domain search process fun and is probably the easiest tool to find creative domain names in 2009.
Seems like a no brainer to me, then George Kirikos drops more wisdom in the comments:
“The solution is to reframe the issue from the point of view of maximizing consumer benefits through tenders, and ignoring both the registrars and the registries. Indeed, reframed in this manner, the strongest case can be made that there should be no new gTLDs, at least until such time as a proper economic study determines that they would add value for consumers that exceed the negative externalities.”
"Domain hacks are the original short URLs. They’re as resistant to link-rot as the rest, except they cost money."
Lately URL shorteners have been making headlines, and some of the coverage is definitely exciting. This is just a friendly reminder that domain hacks can be inherently short, and you should totally consider one for your site/service if you’ve got links to track. And for the tracking side, we recommend awe.sm
Smashing Magazine’s running a really, really great piece about choosing domain names. It’s way more than that though—they’re talking about name selection and iteration in a very insightful and strategic way. “Meta,” even. Some key takeaways:
domains can be discoverable or brandable
names can be assembled in a number of different ways: compounded, blended, phrased, tweaked, affixed, or even made up
be mindful of their linguistic essence: what they mean, and how they sound
Domainr’s a perfect tool for helping you name things, which is why we built it in the first place.
"Domainr is an innovative web tool that helps you explore other TLD’s that have made popular websites like last.fm and del.icio.us stand out from the crowd. Of course, searches will also include popular top-level domains that are available."
"It doesn’t always have to be about an all singing, all dancing, cutting edge website (of course we love those too), but to quote Einstein “simplicity is the ultimate complexity”. Some of the most successful things online have been born out of the simplest ideas – just think about Google and Twitter! A great site we’ve come across recently is Domai.nr – really useful in a world where it is increasingly difficult to find the perfect domain name."
"A world of infinite top level domains goes backwards to a flat space, instead of a tree structure, and would be a step backwards and not an improvement." [GK]
"There have been temptations for the registry companies to consider themselves owners of unclaimed names." [TBL] "Indeed, ICANN seems to want to institutionalize this, through bad policy, by auctioning entire gTLDs to the highest bidder." [GK]
"Our first instincts, then should be not to change the system with anything but incremental and carefully thought-out changes. The addition of new top-levels domains is a very disturbing influence. It carries great cost. It should only be undertaken when there is a very clear benefit to the new domain." [TBL]
"There is a flurry of activity to reserve domain names, a rush one cannot afford to miss in order to protect one’s brand. There is a rash of attempts to steal well-known or valuable domains. The whole process involves a lot of administration, a lot of cost per month, a lot of business for those involved in the domain name business itself, and a negative value to the community." [TBL]
We’ve been emailing with our contact at 101domain about a Domainr user’s difficulties attempting to register a Nigerian (.ne) domain name. Her note below is both helpful and insightful, as it explains how difficult it can be to register some TLDs:
"…the requirements by each country domain registry are actually enforced, and we can only comply. There is no way around it, unless we provide Trustee service, which is definitely not an option for .NE at this time."
It’s unfortunate, but it’s how things are for some TLDs. And it could be worse.
"isn’t sure what to think of @domainr. Looks pretty sexy, but seems to be affiliated with the scammy 101domain.com (1,000$ for every domain)"
We asked him for details, and it turns out some .com domains cost a bit more than normal there:
"@domainr Oddly enough, a bunch of .com domains. The specific one I was looking for was http://ellio.tt/ (turns out that one is 300$/yr nywy)”
We suspect that the .coms he’s referring to might be for resale, not initial registration—we’ve had some great exchanges with 101domain since launching Domainr, and they seem to have both the best global TLD coverage of any registrar out there, and the best user experience for longer-tail TLDs. Non-.com TLDs tend to cost significantly more money than .com’s tend to, which is probably one of the reasons they’re not more widely used. Perhaps with more exposure from products like Domainr, they’ll eventually drop in price and be more widely used.
Being mentioned in such a renowned publication is a huge honor for us, as Wired's been a major influence on us all during its 15+ years in print. In fact, it's one of the main reasons Eric ended up living and working on software in the Bay Area. Having grown up in rural Ohio, it was one of his earliest connections to then-emerging Internet tech, and he’s read it religiously ever since.
"One reason so many new-fangled webapps have such crazy, vowel-deficient names is because the net seems almost completely picked over for .com addresses. Don’t sacrifice your clever idea or give up on your name, though—head to [Domai.nr](http://domai.nr/).”
“Domainr is an innovative web tool that helps you explore other TLD’s that have made popular websites like last.fm and del.icio.us stand out from the crowd. Of course, searches will also include popular top-level domains that are available.”
"Desirable .com domain names are scarcer than profitable investment banks. But Domai.nr makes finding pithy URLs easy by querying 280 top-level domains and another 2,014 second-level ones for domain hacks, turning real English words into unique and memorable Web addresses like del.icio.us, internetfamo.us, gee.ky, and iamthewalr.us. Plus, it’s free. Kookooka.ch/oo!"
Especially relevant to Domainr users considering non-.com domains is the new ccTLDs Forum, where you can find plenty of country code-specific domain discussion. We’re in agreement with both DNW and Rick:
"Latona is a big proponent and believer in country code top level domain names, although he became a convert only last year. His world travels taught him that there’s more than just .com."
Google Analytics gives us a whole host of interesting information about our visitors. One thing that really stuck out when looking at this data today is that Internet Explorer accounts for less than 10% of our traffic—3rd place—while Firefox and Safari account for nearly 80%.
After that caught my eye, I dug in a little further to see how people using different browsers tend to use Domainr. What I found is that IE users are way down in 8th place(!) when it comes to clicking on our “register” links, and are the most likely to leave right after visiting with a bounce rate near 50%. Safari and Firefox users tend to bounce about 20% of the time, and occupy 1st and 2nd place, respectively, for “register” clicks.
Domainr’s front end is hosted on Google App Engine, which provides us with a (usually) stable, fast platform that lets us scale with relative ease. Over the past few days, ongoing performance issues have caused Domainr’s performance to suffer.
"VeriSign processed peak loads of nearly 50 billion Domain Name System (DNS) queries per day in the fourth quarter of 2008, resulting in hundreds of millions of Internet users accessing Web sites or sending email. The VeriSign DNS continued to maintain operational accuracy and stability for 100 percent of the time during the fourth quarter of 2008, as it has for the past 11 years. VeriSign’s unique capability to operate global networks of this nature at this scale and reliability remains unparalleled.”
It’s good to know that people are accessing web sites and sending email.
But sarcasm aside, 11 years of 100% uptime is pretty damn impressive.
ydnar just gave Domainr a bit more sauce—its search results now output in Atom and RSS (example).
Why? Good question. The answer’s probably somewhere between, “Why not?” and, “Django made it too easynot to.”
While we’re unsure of the actual usefulness of feeds in Domainr, we’re hoping they’ll prove interesting and/or worthwhile in unforeseen ways. For example, you could toss a Domainr feed into Pipes or Google’s Feed API and mix it up with other data.
If you cook something up with Domainr’s feeds, leave a comment and let us know about it!
Domainr is agnostic toward controversial issues like ICANN’s proposal to sell new generic top-level domains. Domainr covers the entire domain namespace, and we’ll support new TLDs if and when they launch. Domain Name Wire’s got great coverage of the issue, and we agree that:
there doesn’t seem to be real demand for new gTLDs
IDN's continued rollout is more important than new ASCII TLDs
competing with .com is a marketing problem, not a process problem
I remember reading in Wiredlong, long ago that it’s the content, not the conduit, that matters. This is true for domains—they’re merely a conduit for displaying content and services to potential visitors, an address where your offering lives. If you’ve got great content and a good user experience, you can use any domain and still succeed.