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The Sincerest Form of Flattery

05.13.2009 - 3:53 PM

The Web 2.0 revolution has created a wave of new Web content. The ripples are not just contained to Web 2.0 domains, the entire Internet profile has undergone a significant change. Web 2.0 domains are usually easy to spot, because they contain the string from the parent domain--for example Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter. However there are a growing number of sites that include these words despite having no official connection to them. These can take various forms such as or Websense looked at these Web sites to investigate the trend of creating copycat domains.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the extent to which a site is copied indicates its standing in the cyber community. The graph below generated using the Websense® ThreatSeeker™ Network shows the sheer number of copycat URLs. 


This seems to be a clear and significant victory for Facebook in the popularity stakes. However, raw URL numbers can be distorted by big spam campaigns that automatically generate vast numbers of clone Web sites. If we filter out these spam domains, then we see the following: 


This graph shows the numbers of unique URLs and gives a clearer picture. The number of MySpace-related URLs edge only marginally ahead of Facebook. Twitter lags significantly, which isn’t entirely surprising for the new kid on the block.

If we investigate the category of the copycat URLs, we can begin to explore why people name-drop the big players.

Category Breakdown of MySpace Copycat Domains


Category Breakdown of Facebook Copycat Domains


We can see the pattern is similar for both sets of namesakes. The main reason for creating a copycat domain is to circumvent products that filter the original domain. This is particularly worrying, because anonymous proxies are often the gateway to malware and security risks.

Looking at the categories other than proxy avoidance, pioneers at Facebook and MySpace have clearly inspired others. This is demonstrated by social networking being second for Facebook and fourth for MySpace. However, as with any other Web trend, the people quickest to jump on the bandwagon are those trying to sell you something.

Imitation can be flattering, but it can also be dangerous. Be careful not to get swept away.

Software Engineer: Mark Haffenden

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