Domaining, mobile tlds and automated whois queries

Domaining has been interesting me for a while. I think it mainly bugs me because I distinctly remember conversations from ~10 years ago about whether it was worth buying some generic .com domains that would be worth quite a packet these days. Darn it.

I don’t think the game is over, however, but it is taking (in my mind) two divergent paths:

  1. the .com tld and most cctlds look to me more like the (real world, bricks and mortar) property market - with money to be made in clever speculation but mostly in development. Buy a nice undeveloped plot, develop it and sell it for a multiple.
  2. new tlds, where it is quite hard to predict the future value of the domains (.biz??? please).

One area that is ripe for the picking in my mind is mobile. There has not yet been a winner in the battle for hearts and minds that is the mobile internet (, etc.?) but mobile domains have a few characteristics that are unique relative to the regular domain markets:

  • shortness is (even) better
  • all-number domains might make more sense because of the input method on many mobile devices

What am I doing about it?

Well, I spent a bit of time yesterday (yes, it was Sunday, I’m soo cool) writing a script to let me easily check the availability of some of the domains I’m toying with buying up. This highlighted a couple of issues:

  1. I don’t have £150k. Any investors out there with that kind of money who fancy dabbling, I have identified a mobile niche you could pretty much own with an investment along those lines... Drop me a line :)
  2. Automated whois queries are quite hard. Who decided that whois servers didn’t need to return information in a standard format? Nice one.

It’s not even easy to see if something is registered in an automated way (please, someone, correct me in the comments if I’m missing something):

whois -h

Domain: anunregistereddomain Status: FREE

whois -h


whois -h


What’s that all about? Why not have a standard response?

Will Critchlow

Will Critchlow

Will founded Distilled with Duncan in 2005. Since then, he has consulted with some of the world’s largest organisations and most famous websites, spoken at most major industry events and regularly appeared in local and national press. Will is part...   read more

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  1. steve

    You're right that short is good for a mobile domain, but I'm not sure that numbers would be better as on my phone it defaults to predictive text for domain entry, which makes numbers a pain. Also, I don;t have a spare 150k either so I can't help there

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  2. RFC954, RFC1834 are the definitions for whois I think. Of course, they were written in 1985 and 1995, and there's no defined replies as long as it indicates a zero query in some way. Plus now IANA no longer has control over all tlds, each registry "does it their own way" - but there must be a way of doing these searches in an automated way - in fact it's been done within most internet registrar's web pages (one plucked out of google:

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  3. Do no web based whois tools have an API?

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  4. @Steve: good point about the entry of domain names - I had thought of that, but phones normally (!) have a good way of entering numbers so it shouldn't be too hard. I'm still not 100% sold on numerical .mobi domain names, but it seems like it might work well. More thought / research needed.

    @Graeme: I think the people who have 'automated' this actually just code around all the different ways that it is implemented for different tlds. I don't see any good reason why the RFCs wouldn't have a standard response for 'no entry found'. Dumb. In my view.

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  5. Think coding round each one is the only way (but a PITA nevertheless) - trouble is, in 1995 (and certainly in 1985), there was probably no reason for a common way to be defined, and so it never was. Ho hum.

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  6. Good thinking, Adam. I don't know. Should check it out.

    They probably have quite low daily usage limits though. I'd be interested to hear if there are any...

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  7. @Will : Usage limits on whois also vary from registrar to registrar. eg Nominet have in their AUP:

    "The maximum query rate is 5 queries per second with a maximum of 1,000 queries per rolling 24 hours"

    Curiously, this is a "per-user" limit rather than per-IP address, though not sure how they determine that...!

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  8. Yeah. A lot of the web-based solutions have even lower limits.

    Maybe we need to become a registrar and get access to all the data. I think you only have to stump up £70k or something (per tld)!

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  9. I think the answer is fairly obvious: because the whois servers don't like automated queries. The last thing the need is someone scraping their databases and consuming their bandwidth and server resources.

    It's an interesting topic though. £1M spent now could be worth a hundred times that in a few years in the mobile domain market. Just goes to show, it takes money to make money.

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  10. That sounds like a plan. Great post.

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  11. I'm sure they don't like automated queries, but different output by different registrars seems to me to be a particularly clumsy way of limiting it...

    I agree with your 2nd point though. Wondering about starting a domain name investment fund (only half-joking).

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