Domain Tasting Loses Its Appeal

By Alex Athans, Legal Team

If you plan on tasting a domain before you decide to commit to it, you might be alone, or at least in very limited company.

Domain tasting—the practice of using the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’s (ICANN) five-day “add grace period” (AGP) to test the marketability of domains—has seen a sharp decline in the past few months to the tune of 84 percent. This drop-off in tasting is based on numbers taken a month after ICANN’s implementation of a $.20 fee on all domain names back in June 2008.

Tasting used to be an attractive practice, mainly due to the full refund granted if a domain was not kept before the AGP elapsed. The absence of a $.20 fee helped incentivize tasting as well.

Tasting is generally used so that a new registrant can monitor the click-through rate of a domain and determine whether it is profitable to keep before fully purchasing it. However, this has led to many domainers using automated methods of registering thousands of domains.

The numbers show the prevalence of tasting: Registrar reported that in February 2007, of 51.5 million domains registered, all but 3.6 million were kept beyond the five-day grace period. The 84 percent drop in tasting therefore represents a dramatic decline in a practice generally held to be an industry norm. In fact, some registrars ignored tasting, as it led to an overall increase of registered domains.

Not all in the domain industry are thrilled about domain tasting, and are in fact happy to see such a precipitous drop-off. Trademark holders, in particular, are pleased by this development, as domain tasting can make it difficult for many registrants to get a domain name that they actually want to develop a site for. Additionally, tasting is said to increase the potential for trademark infringement and abuse.

Kristina Rosette of the Intellectual Property Constituency on the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) Counsel believes that ICANN did not go far enough: “I think the drop would have been greater if ICANN had moved forward more quickly in implementing the new consensus policy restricting the applicability of the add grace period, the contractual provision that made domain name tasting possible. ICANN still hasn't implemented that policy and is unlikely to do so for several months.”

Whatever move ICANN decides to take, it will most likely involve further restrictions on domain tasting. If you are planning on testing out the marketability of a domain before fully purchasing it, be aware that it will now have a price tag, meaning that domains should only be tasted if the domainer has an actual intent to potentially keep the domain. This might be what ICANN was trying to promote after all.