Dialog has joined with SnapNames to offer a master directory of domain name information. At 65 million records and counting, the database becomes the largest single file on Dialog. The Domain Names Database (File 225) carries both current URL records and historical ownership records for Internet domain names. The source matches records held in WhoIs and WhoWas files. Records can contain as many as 78 fields; more than 50 are fully searchable. Fields include registrant name, domain name, e-mail address, phone number, ZIP code, etc.
Dialog recommends the file for tracking domain name assets, investigating cybersquatting or other cybercrimes and offenses, and verifying uniqueness or availability of names. Historical data extends to October 1997. At present, the file updates monthly, though Dialog plans to improve the currency with weekly updates in 2003. At present, estimates place the file's coverage of the URL universe at 52 percent, with some 20 million currently active domain names, according to Viji Krishnan, Dialog's vice president of content.
Not only did the monster file exceed the size of all other Dialog files, but Krishnan told me that it also beat the speed record for getting online. Normally a Dialog database takes 6 to 9 months to come online, but the contract covering this file was signed in August. Krishnan said that Dialog's technical staff worked 24/7 to get the file loaded within the fourth quarter of 2002. That way, they could make sure the WhoIs information was in place before adding the WhoWas historical information.
The database includes data from the five leading registrars and at present is limited to generic top-level domain (gTLD) names using the dot-com, dot-org, and dot-net suffixes. The registrars covered include BulkRegister, eNameCo, eNom, MelbourneIT, Tucows, VeriSign Registrar, DomainSite, and NamesBeyond. SnapNames is contacting additional registrars. Dialog has announced plans to add .edu and country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) such as .uk for the United Kingdom or .ca for Canada. The gTLDs that have been recently authorized by ICANN, such as .biz or .info, are also on the target list.
The WhoIs record is part of a publicly available registration document that lists registrant and technical information for each domain name. Mason Cole of SnapNames explained that the .com/.net/.org WhoIs records are kept by registrars, while WhoIs information for other TLDs goes from registrars to central registries. The master list of domain names that goes to the registry for .com/.net/.org is only a "thin" record, enough for zone files and route servers to make the proper network referrals. The more than 200 accredited registrars have the "thick" records, which contain the details on registrants used in WhoIs records. SnapNames and Dialog have targeted all they can get for future addition to the database.
The Domain Names Database offers searchable contact information for not only registrants, but also billing organizations, administrative managers, and technical support. The file does not, however, reconcile to the true owner when not identical with the registrant. For example, if a company decides to outsource the complete Web process—perhaps by allowing a third party to buy its domain name and/or design the site and maybe even host it—then the name and contact information for the true site holder might never appear in this directory of registrants.
The historical WhoWas data, which is unique to the new Dialog database, allows users to follow trails of domain registration transfers and changes. For example, a user might search by a single e-mail address or company name to pinpoint domain names associated with that piece of data. He or she can then track transfers or other changes to that registration.
Searching the Domain Names Database costs $5.50 per DialUnit or $1.08 per connect-time minute, plus $2.90 per full record displayed or printed. The new content source is available through DialogWeb, DialogClassic, and DialogLink. According to Krishnan, Dialog plans to test the file in traditional, top-end Dialog markets before making it available to a broader public through its credit card outlets.
Located in Portland, Ore., SnapNames offers a selection of free searching resources on its own Web site, including a NameRecover service for people hoping to pick up the rights to a previously used domain name and a SnapShot service that reports any changes to a domain name. The company also offers free packets of information that explain the structure and use of domain names as well as a monthly newsletter called State of the Domain.
Mary Ellen Bates worked with the Domain Names Database extensively for an upcoming review that's scheduled for her Spotlight column in the January 2003 issue of ONLINE magazine. She commented: "This is a real departure for Dialog in terms of content. I'm not sure they see how to fit it with their other files and market it outside the IP [intellectual property] market. I hope other Dialog searchers will figure out more uses for it. The file has all kinds of applications. There are a lot of cool things it can do. Its value is not self-evident beyond IP searchers. This is a sleeper database."
Psst! A couple of quick searcher tips for a file that has some fascinating possibilities. First, though Dialog will offer Alert (SDI) services for the file, before choosing that option you might want to check out the backorder/standing order options directly from SnapNames. The most expensive only costs $69 a year for regular monitoring. Or you might find the free SnapShot monitoring service. This offers a weekly report on the activity for a specific domain name. It just depends on what you need.
Second, the Dialog file seems to provide some fascinating opportunities for gathering Internet Age statistics, such as geographic measures of the rise of the New Economy. If you want the system to rank results with geographic measures, check out the file's reporting and ranking options. But if you just want counts for areas you can specify, you might try combining File 225 with a totally nonmatching file in the cheap DIALINDEX (File 411), or expand on fields for counts there and pay a tiny fraction of the cost of using the file full-strength. (Sorry, Dialog, my readers would have figured it out soon enough anyway.)