Update: 5/25/12 (HatTip to domainnamewire.com) Oversee and NameKing are being sued by(pdf) jeweler Tocari for exactly what I describe in this post.
Note: The views expressed here are my own and not those of Khan Academy for whom I freely volunteered my time.
Long story short in case you’re in a hurry. Discovering that ConAcademy.com was registered led me once again down the back alleys of behind-the-scenes domaining. This time the owner turned out to be Oversee.net, who own upwards of a million domains. I’m happy to say that eventually Oversee gave us the domain, no charge, and without legal wrangling apart from my emails. It’s a little more complicated than that, if you’re curious read on.
In our last episode, I’d helped (with help from Andrew Warner) Sal and KhanAcademy.org acquire their dot com. We traveled down a murky road that left a lot of basic questions unanswered. We discovered a web of companies inside of companies that led back to Demand Media (DMD) and wondered if the IPO had anything to do with how “only solid six figure offers” suddenly turned into an auction at Namejet where we won KhanAcademy.com for $2,988.
In the Ustream chat of Sal’s This Week In Startups interview with Jason Calacanis, someone asked if it was spelled ConAcademy and I was shocked to realize I’d never checked the obvious typo! ConAcademy.org was available, but the .com led me down another path I’m happy to share with you today.
This is a classic example of ‘parked’ page. The owner of this domain is hoping someone who had typed conacademy.com into their browser bar, not finding what they were looking for, will then click on one of the links. When that happens, the owner of the domain will earn a rev share of whatever the advertiser is paying for a click. Seeing as this (online education) market is quite competitive, a click (there may be a secondary click required after this first one) can cost an advertiser anywhere from $3-$20 for some of the keywords listed on this page. Usually the clicks are monetized through Google or Bing. The business model has been very lucrative. While parking income is ‘down’, it’s probably the main reason we have large, publicly traded companies owning hundreds of thousands of domains. Not to mention individual domainers with 10s of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of domain names. I should mention now that I don’t have a problem with parking per se. If you were early enough and clever enough to register valuable generic keyword domains when that was still a risky business model, congratulations. (I will say though how grateful I am for my AdBlockPlus plugin.)
In fact ConAcademy.com was owned by Oversee.net.
Oversee.net owns one of the largest portfolios of domain names in the world–more than 1 million names.
Monetizing domain “real-estate”
For owners seeking ways to monetize undeveloped domain “real-estate”, Oversee is a pioneer in offering landing page optimization technology that renders highly relevant keywords, PPC ads, and layout configurations customized for each domain.
Oversee’s entire business model is built around technology that populates domain landing pages with ads to click on. They also own a registrar- Moniker.com, a domain buy-sell auction platform- SnapNames.com [update: Oversee sold both Moniker and Snapnames to KeyDrive in early 2012], and run an annual high-ticket domain auction conference called DomainFest. They are a major player in the world of domaining.
But why ConAcademy.com?
According to the Whois info, ConAcademy.com was registered October 28, 2010. That’s only a few weeks after Google announced a $2M prize to Khan Academy as part of their Project 10^100 and about a month and half after Sal’s Fortune article.
The registrar for ConAcademy listed on the Whois, was NameKing.com. NameKing is a landing page for domain inquiries. The form led eventually to a quote from someone at Moniker who informed me that the ‘owner’ was willing to except an offer of $2500 for the domain name.
In our previous example, KhanAcademy.com, there was the possibility that a prior customer had registered KhanAcademy.com, that it had eventually dropped, that Enom noticed the traffic, and so rather than releasing it, they kept it for themselves. But in this case ConAcademy.com was registered after a lot of attention was being paid to Sal and KhanAcademy.org. So it makes me wonder if some of this “optimization technology” Oversee is talking about isn’t actually programmed to find available misspelled dot com domains of trending searches and register them! [This just in 4/18/11! Recent UDRP decision confirms Oversee using automated domain registration process! Story from DomainNameWire, WIPO decision. That Oversee is ALSO auto-registering typos of trending search terms wasn’t mentioned in the WIPO decision.]
So there’s the why of it, sort of. It’s profitable to own these kind of typo domains where type-in traffic generates income through clicks on ads. This, in the case of ConAcademy.com, in my layman’s opinion, was a classic example of typosquatting – benefiting financially from misspellings of someone else’s brand. IF a case could be made that ConAcademy had ANY generic value, I would be forced to concede that Oversee had every right to own it and offer it for sale. But it’s ONLY value derives from Sal’s IP. So I determined I would fight for this one.
I worked on this for months. People were busy, out of town, the conference, the wrong person, that person lost my email, and forwarded it to her who passed it on to legal who wanted documentation of the Trademark etc. Sometimes I knew the person’s name and other times it was ‘Admin’. My point here is that there was obviously no point-person to handle this kind of situation. I was trying to be patient, but when weeks went by without a response I decided to see if I couldn’t acquire some leverage, in a way I knew these people would understand. I was surprised to see, considering they own over a million domains, that OverseeSucks.com was available. With that in my subject line, someone got back to my email within a day and things started to move in earnest.
Let me state here- I do not hate Oversee (and want to thank Howard for his help). I do not think that automated registration algorithms are necessarily evil. I AM saying that if you’re going to own a million names you better have a system in place for promptly giving back domains you have no business owning! It took me FIVE MONTHS to get ConAcademy. Meanwhile Sal spoke at TED and the press hit the fan.
I think my mission is mostly accomplished now. KhanAcademy.com, ConAcademy.org, and ConAcademy.com all point to KhanAcademy.org. We now pass the ‘radio test’. It’s a pleasure to have been of service to such a great cause. Go Sal!