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Making Money from DNS

Saturday, May 30, 1998 by Dave Winer.

A short Saturday morning DaveNet with a neat idea that I bet will become a hit.

I first posted the idea on Scripting News on Thursday, and yesterday, one day later, there was an announcement on infoworld.com that Netscape is going to implement it.

I think we're onto something. Yeah! I like it.

Domain Name Servers  Permalink to Domain Name Servers

First a little background.

When you type www.scripting.com into your web browser it sends a message to a piece of software running on another machine called a domain name server. The DNS software turns the string into a set of four numbers,

Even though it's virtually invisible, the domain name server is an essential piece of software. When you're browing or emailing, your software does a lot of DNS lookups.

Try an experiment Permalink to Try an experiment

Type into the URL spot in your web browser.

It should take you to the same place as www.scripting.com.

You just did by hand what the DNS software does for you automatically.

Smarter browsers Permalink to Smarter browsers

A couple of years ago web browsers got a bit smarter, they allowed you to type in a word, the browser would take a guess, then try another, until it found a match, or if it didn't find one, it would display an error dialog. First it would try the string you typed, then it would add a .com at the end, if that failed, add a www. at the beginning. Then try .edu and .org and .net.

This softness in URLs was great because you type less and because you have to remember less. But it is really crude, and led to the inevitable question, could it be made even simpler and more useful? And the answer is, of course, yes!

AOL keywords Permalink to AOL keywords

The answer is over a fence, in America Online's service, an AOL feature that hasn't made it to the general Internet yet.

AOL places are not places on the Internet, so if you type FOOD into the keyword dialog you get to the AOL place where you get food. Or if you type CHESS you go to an area where people play chess. You can bring up a list of all the places you can go.

It's simple, the keywords are easy to remember and unambiguous. And even better for AOL, they're enormously profitable. An example, the company that bought the FOOD keyword, CyberMeals, paid $20 million for the connection. And the users get simplicity (and food).

OK, you've probably already figured it out by now. AOL-style keywords are coming to the Internet. Here's how.

A new level of DNS Permalink to A new level of DNS

Not too deep in a control panel on your system is a pointer to the machine your software sends DNS requests to. You'll change that number to the number of a machine running at Netscape or Yahoo or Microsoft or Oracle or Compaq, or whoever grabs the top of this hill and wins the hearts of Internet users.

This one little connection will allow you to use a new set of keywords in all parts of your Internet use. The people who operate the server will be able to charge the FOOD people millions of dollars. And you'll get the same benefit that AOL users have been getting, simple names for places you can buy things.

I'm not sure how well I've explained it but using it will be a lot simpler than understanding how it works.

Netscape's advantage Permalink to Netscape's advantage

Now here's a piece of brilliance.

According to the InfoWorld story, Netscape is going to bake a similar feature into the next release of Navigator.


I'm going to guess how it works. Launch the new Navigator, type FOOD. Instead of going to your normal DNS, the browser talks to a server running on the Netscape campus. It looks up FOOD in its keyword dictionary, sees that CyberMeals owns the keyword (assuming they made the deal with them, as they did with AOL) and directs the browser to the CyberMeals server at

That's it. Every month they can sell another keyword. The users are going to love it. They've leveraged their position in web browsers to grab a big piece of e-commerce. Bravo!

Dave Winer

PS: I'm not an idiot! I'm sure Microsoft will do this too. ;->

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