Wednesday, February 27, 2008

AOL/Time Warner Takes Over Unclaimed Domains

Cable broadband users are saying goodbye to "Page cannot be found" and hello to ads. AOL's subsidiary ISP, Road Runner Time Warner has taken all the unused names on the internet captured all the non-claimed domains on the internet.

Normally when a users enters an invalid domain name they will receive a 4o4 page not found error, however by applying a method called wildcard DNS, users will instead be shown a landing page containing mostly ads.

Yahoo is powering the sponsored listings and the advertising arrangement should provide sizable revenue for the Time Warners ISP. Yahoo has several similar arrangements with domain aggregators which similarly allow advertising on unused domain URLs; this deal will considerably extend Yahoo's much needed advertising reach in the U.S.

You may remember that VeriSign did this in 2003, redirecting all bad .com and .net URLs. A move which affected nearly every internet user and enraged many online communities eventually pushing VeriSign to reverse the change. Since then the user acceptance of advertising-only websites has grown. Time Warner might skirt criticism because of its smaller footprint and cautious implementation. A key difference is that Time Warner allows a simple, non-intrusive way to opt-out of the wildcard DNS.

Although some customers are offended; it can be expected that other ISPs will eventually follow suit in the pursuit of top-end revenue. From my vantage point, this reinforces the value of the search engine, a place where the majority of users already start their daily internet routine.


David Rodecker is the President of RelevantAds, a search engine optimization company that delivers highly targeted search result placements and provides specific solutions in getting local businesses online.

10 comments:

Marah Marie said...

"Cable broadband users are saying goodbye to "Page cannot be found" and hello to ads. AOL's subsidiary ISP, Road Runner Time Warner has taken all the unused names on the internet."

"Yahoo has several similar arrangements with domain aggregators which similarly allow advertising on unused domain URLs; this deal will considerably extend Yahoo's much needed advertising reach in the U.S."

They are *not* taking over unclaimed domains. How ridiculous...do you know how to interpret the pages you are seeing? They clearly say, "Sorry, we couldn't find example.com", then the ads run underneath that message. The pages are not connecting to the address you requested, they are instead hosted on rr.com (which is RoadRunner, TW's ISP, just in case you're unsure).

That is NOT the same as AOL/Time Warner "taking all the unused names on the Internet". If they had "taken all the unused names on the Internet" such as example.com, etc., and were hosting ads on those domains, the link in your address bar would point to that domain, not to rr.com. On top of that, to determine if TimeWarner/AOL actually owned that domain, you would still have to check the WhoIs info to make sure.

Am I making this clear enough for you?

I could see you writing this as an April Fool's Day gag but not as a serious article...you either know nothing about DNS nor about how MOST ISPs, including my own (Earthlink) show you ads when a website can't be looked up, or you are trying to pull everyone's leg.

It is URL *redirection* being undertaken by Roadrunner and Earthlink and who knows what other ISPs, not those ISPs "taking all the unused names on the Internet". Maybe I should write something like this as an April Fool's gag for my own blog.

I've already got the title: "AOL Buys the Entire Internet - Click Here to Download Now"

Anonymous said...

fine but when they give me a page saying that www.google.com is not available something is wrong. That is right, I'm getting "Sorry, we couldn't find www.google.com" pages and it is starting VERY annoying.

Anonymous said...

I also keep getting that same annoying message when looking up google. GOOGLE? C'mon. This thing is injecting advertising into our bandwidth and giving Yahoo a way to hijack Google as well. This is a total load. I'm trying to figure out how I can dump Time Warner. There has to be a way.

David Rodecker said...

The TW landing page has no intelligence. The DNS service is supposed to handle basic typos, but the advertisement page itself doesn't perform any logic. Here is an example of how Road Runner would handle Google.com.

I highly recommend that you disable the Road Runner landing page. Alternatively, you can modify your machine to use Opendns and bypass Road Runner DNS.

Marah Marie said...

OK, when I wrote my comment months ago I was using Earthlink. Now I'm using Roadrunner and I'm not having the problems anonymous or David claim they are having. But I'm using the following URL as my RR home page (IE only, since I use Firefox with Speed Dial as my actual home page - IE is on my computer only for website testing) - maybe David and anon are not using this same page?

http://www.rr.com/flash/index.cfm?rev=10336

Try typing google.com, www.google.com - whatever you want - into that search box. It won't say "Sorry, we couldn't find www.google.com" or whatever other URL you searched for.

RR is using Yahoo's Overture to provide ads and redirect users to the correct page, but again, AOL apparently still does not own every URL on the Internet. Nice try, though...

David Rodecker said...

Hi Marah,
The point is that the ISP is taking over the unused domains. This is not to say that they actually own the domain names. When a browser attempts to lookup a domain that is not claimed (or the name fails to be found), the ISPs DNS server fabricates a response.

Since you are now on RR, you might experience this feature now too; however they haven't deployed it across all their networks. Test it by entering a non-existent domain in your address bar such as: giberrish123xyz.com. Instead of getting a browser "Server not found" error, do you find the RR default landing page as shown in the image above?
AOL is following the Domain Parking strategy of internet advertising in which domains are purchased exclusively for the purpose of creating advertising landing pages triggered upon URL type-in traffic. In other words, domains like candy.com can be valuable because it is a commonly entered keyword that some users might enter into their browser address bar. AOL is getting this value on essentially all un-owned URLs and didn't have to actually purchase any domains!

Marah marie said...

You know, you really are an idiot. The ISP (which is owned the company that I have loved to hate for 2 and 1/2 years) is *not* taking over any unused domains. Get it through your head.

"When a browser attempts to lookup a domain that is not claimed (or the name fails to be found), the ISPs DNS server fabricates a response."

Damn it, the server is *not* "fabricating a response"! It is merely redirecting to an rr.com URL - do you understand the difference between fabricating (forging) response headers and merely redirecting URLs, the latter of which is a completely harmless action in and of itself?

"Instead of getting a browser "Server not found" error, do you find the RR default landing page as shown in the image above?"

Yes I do, and so what? I found the same sort of pages on Earthlink, too. It is not uncommon these days for all major ISPs to redirect users to alternative landing pages. Earthlink's alternative landing pages are actually much worse.

"AOL is following the Domain Parking strategy of internet advertising in which domains are purchased exclusively for the purpose of creating advertising landing pages triggered upon URL type-in traffic."

No, AOL is not. Domain parking is parking your goddamn domain somewhere, not selling your domain name to rr.com to watch type-in traffic get redirected to an rr.com landing page instead of your own. Nor does the Domain Name Parking Strategy or whatever the hell you called it mean that RR purchases unused domain names to redirect to their own URLs. Are you kidding? Seriously, on what planet does all this shit happen? Not here - but I'd love to visit the place.

As you yourself pointed out, candy.com *is* a landing page for a parked domain. We can agree on that much! It does *not* redirect to rr.com, so obviously RR didn't steal it, nor did they buy it, nor are they redirecting that URL to their own landing pages.

Any URL that redirects to rr.com is obviously not a landing page *parked* by rr.com, and such a page is probably not parked anywhere at all. Do you see why?

Parked domains and *their* landing pages such as candy.com, and this redirect action rr.com is performing on unused domain names (not parked - UNUSED) are two different things altogether.

So I want to know (hopefully I asked this question in my first comment as well) how the hell can you write this post when you have no idea what you're talking about?

Do you think I'd come to AOHell's defense if I believed you actually had even one half of one clue as to what you're talking about?

I'm wasting my time here, David, because you need the other half of that first clue you don't seem to have. No one else seems to be getting it to you, and I doubt I will succeed, either.

Snozzwanger said...

"AOL is following the Domain Parking strategy of internet advertising in which domains are purchased exclusively for the purpose of creating advertising landing pages triggered upon URL type-in traffic."

While everything about this as a business policy sucks - it screws up some spam blockers, makes VPN connections unreliable or impossible, prohibits local connections via browser, kills toolbar searches, and so on - you really did misrepresent the issue.

"Road Runner Time Warner has taken all the unused names on the internet".

Taken as written, that means... no new web sites! Ever! If Road Runner took them all, there's nothing for anyone to register, right? Um, no.

Basic fact never mentioned in your initial post or in your comment reply: If you're not a Road Runner Time Warner customer, you will never see the RR/TW advertisements.

"The point is that the ISP is taking over the unused domains."

No. They're not.
YOU might type in Glargle.com and get a page of ads from RR/TW, but I don't. That's the difference between so-called "dead domain handling" and domain parking: you're discussing a practice that only affects an ISP's own subscribers, while domain parking affects everyone. (That being said, for the record "dead domain handling" is in my opinion much more nefarious and reprehensible.)

David Rodecker said...

There are several means in which a domain and even a specific URL can be captured by the ISP. The fact that ISP gets into the business of 1) capture the requested URL, 2) interpreting the domain or DNS route-ability, and 3) displays a custom advertising screen in its place is clearly well beyond what most users expect their ISP to get involved with.

As Snozzwanger points out, this tactic is only being applied to non-registered (aka unclaimed) domains. Thanks for pointing out that this does affect all of the unused domains names; I clarified this in the original post. RR calls this "Web Address Error Redirect Service" and defines to occur when "non-existing domain" is attempted by the user. This service is enabled by default by some of AOL/TW/RR.com servers and users must elect to opt-out. I wouldn't be surprised that in the future we'll have ISPs performing more pervasive interests such as handling such as DNS errors, custom 404 pages, side-bar browsing and even pop-ups.

Whether it be dead domain handling, the millions of domains harvested in domain kiting, or custom 404 redirecting; when it’s performed by the ISP the tactic borders in invasion of privacy and goes against the fabric of net neutrality.

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