In a potentially significant development, VeriSign Inc. is privately testing a service that could let it direct large portions of trash traffic to Web sites of its choosing, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Mountain View, Calif., company operates the largest Internet “registry” — a master directory with listings that enable Web users and e-mails to reach Internet addresses ending in the popular “.com” and “.net” suffixes. When it makes the service public, which could occur in the coming weeks, VeriSign will send users who flub an address — say by typing bestby.com into their browsers instead of bestbuy.com — to another Web site, most likely an Internet search engine. In effect, VeriSign will be capturing error-prone users before the software from companies like Microsoft and AOL can nab them, potentially shifting significant sums of traffic away those sites.
VeriSign could, in turn, make money for sending the traffic to another site. “Like many registries, we’re continually exploring how to enhance the user experience,” a VeriSign spokesman says, and that, he adds, includes testing the redirection of users who make errors in Web navigation. (For technical reasons, VeriSign won’t be able to divert users unless the Web addresses they mistype include a “.com” or “.net” on the end.)
It’s unclear how much money can be made from redirection or how much trash traffic there is, but some industry executives think the numbers are huge. Afilias Ltd., an Irish company that runs the registry for Internet addresses ending in “.info,” says 10% to 12% of the roughly one billion look-ups a day it conducts in its master directory are for nonexistent addresses. Ram Mohan, chief technology officer of Afilias, calls efforts like VeriSign’s “game-changing moves,” but says Afilias has no current plans to exploit trash traffic. [WSJ.com]