Are all the good Internet domain names already owned by someone? No — only the obvious ones are taken.

Every new enterprise, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, needs a domain name — the identifier that shows up in a brower’s address field. For example, the MediaShift Idea Lab blog lives inside the Public Broadcasting Service’s domain.

The absolutely perfect name for your new project or company, or at least the simplest one, may well be owned by someone else. In fact, it probably is. The odds are definitely slim that you’ll get a domain name that a random person would guess by typing it into the browser, such as or or other such domains.

But that’s not the same as saying you can’t find a good name, because you almost certainly can. (And even if it’s not instantly guessable, modern search engines will soon find it if what you’re doing has any value. The Idea Lab URL — already in the top five items in a Google search on “Idea Lab” — demonstrates that point.)

I’ve worked on a bunch of new projects in recent years. Each time, we’ve had little or no trouble finding a useful domain name. In almost every case, the name was available for sale from one of the many registrars that are in this business; domain registrars charge different prices for this service but . On several occasions when someone else did own the name, we were able to buy it for an affordable amount.

We encountered the domain issue in creating a website for our new Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship. Should we just put it under the Arizona State University hierarchy, such as (which does not exist)? Or should we find a unique domain name that more reflected the center’s basic idea and mission? The latter made more sense.

But what name? I asked my students to help find one, with the single proviso that I was leaning toward a .org domain, reflecting the not-for-profit reality of the center and its university parent. I suggested they use several Web-based tools for the purpose, including:

  • MakeWords is a “name generator” — essentially, you plug in keywords and it gives you suggestions. The flexibility is impressive. You can tell it how the domain name should start or end, and you can get refinements from a long list of keyword themes, as well as affixes by theme. For example, I searched on “California” and refined it with a “travel” theme, and got a list or allegedly available names that included,, and
  • NameBoy is another generator. In my experience it’s simpler to use, but much less nuanced. You type in a primary and (optional) secondary word, and it spits out results. None, in the example above, looked very interesting.

Like MakeWords, NameBoy’s results of available domains should be treated as possibilities, not definitely open names. You always have to check with a registrar to find out if a domain is actually available or not; sometimes these sites say something is open for the taking when it isn’t.

My students and I came up with a bunch of interesting domain possibilities for the Knight Center. They included,,,,,, and many, many more.

In the end, we picked, which we all thought captured our purpose and, happily, had several meanings. Most happily, it was available, and I grabbed it.

Which leads to a final issue, and an area of caution in this process: If you’re looking for a good domain name and check to see if it’s already registered, be prepared to jump if you find it’s available. I’ve seen believable suggestions that some registrars engage in a practice called “front-running,” in which they grab domains themselves after people check availability, or that hackers have somehow interjected themselves into the search process to do the same thing.