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Interesting Twist: Google and WhoIs LookUps

By - January 28, 2004

logo-netsol.gifAndy Beal points out in his blog that Google has been blocked from performing Whois lookups by Network Solutions. The “Whois” feature (which lets you find out who owns a web domain) was one of many added recently by Google in its continued quest to “make the world’s information accessible.” Alex S. at BizWeek pointed out in a piece blogged here that there’s a business model behind this intent (I’ll take disintermediation for $500, thank you very much). We had a back and forth about it in the comments as well.

In any case, it’s significant that Network Solutions is pushing back. Andy, who writes in large part to the SEO community, comments:

There’s some hypocrisy here. Google publicly chastises anyone who run ranking reports on the Google Index, claiming that it is a drain of their server resources. Yet they seem quite happy to launch a service that has the same impact on Network Solutions…

As I think Andy implies, I’m not sure this has anything to do with drains on servers and bandwidth. I think it has a lot more to do with who owns the customer. Network Solutions knows Whois is a major draw for customers, they use that draw to convert Whois lookups into paying domain registrants. In this particular case, the argument that Google was, in effect, stealing their customers at the point of conversion holds some water. If I do a Whois lookup on Google and see a bunch of ads for registrars that are not Network Solutions, well…..that ain’t good for Network Solutions. And if I’m Google, and thinking about doing registration at some point (like Yahoo does now)….well, having this feature didn’t hurt. Network Solutions had to do something.

I wonder if others – airlines, UPS, etc. – will follow suit.

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2 thoughts on “Interesting Twist: Google and WhoIs LookUps

  1. Fortunately, we have a non-monopoly now and Network Solutions doesn’t precisely own its registration information. In fact, I thought that part of the whole deal with ICANN and the new registrars was that the kind of proprietary, we-own-this-information approach of NetSol would go away.

    If you visit easyDNS, my preferred registrar and DNS host, they have a Whois query site (http://www.easywhois.com/) which doesn’t appear to be restricted in the same way as NetSol’s.

    There’s also the issue of Feist v. Rural, in which a collection of facts is itself not copyrightable when the facts individually would not be. I would argue that NetSol’s database falls clearly into this category.

  2. Scott Rafer says:

    I had a similar conversation regarding Google on the TOS at Orkut. A couple of people I know were exercised over the fact that crawling Orkut was out of bounds and felt that Google was being two-faced in that regard.

    On the whois issue, once Google Mail is really running, and AdWords/AdSense grows up into Google Small Business Services, they’ll probably just buy one of the registrars on the cheap and NetSol will be forced to let them in.