Sarah Palin may need to shell out some cash if she wants youbetcha2012.com on yard signs during the next presidential campaign.
Or, for that matter, sarah2012.com, spalin2012.com, or mamabear2012.
It doesn't matter that the next presidential election is a year away and the list of contenders is foggy at best. A healthy market has cropped up for Palin URLs in anticipation of her potential run.
The site names have been gobbled up by domain name squatters who want to profit on the resale or who want to use the real estate to politick on their own.
For potential candidate Palin, the speculation presents some risks.
She could wind up handing over a hefty sum to a hosting company if she gets intent about having the domain name of her choice, with the Web's most expensive URLs sometimes pricing into the millions.
But the larger threat may be political.
"The risk is that you don't want to have the egg on your face if someone else takes the URL and puts something on it you don't like," said Dave Grossman, a digital strategist at the firm Engage, which specializes in new media campaigns for conservative candidates.
For Palin, critics have already gone there. Sarahpalin2012.net, for instance, is home to a blog for "a few like-minded skeptics to voice our opinions on the [bleep] spewed daily by the talking heads in the media and by the public." The commentary on the site is critical of the Tea Party movement that Palin has associated herself with.
The most-expert instance of web squatting may have been the critical commentary that has cropped up on a fake Twitter feed about the BP spill. The satirical tweets chimed in with such comments as "BP has pledged 75 million dollars towards the 40 billion dollar cleanup cost." This form of criticism can be tough for the real image-makers to push back on.
Still, when it comes to websites, Grossman said the land grab is
less of a liability now that URLs are becoming less central to campaign
That's because candidate websites are usually accessed through search engines such as Google, meaning candidates need not display their web addresses prominently on campaign literature. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), for instance, replaced the URL on some signs with a text message number.
Beyond that, websites are no longer the hub of a digital campaign, according to Grossman.
Lots of campaign content is migrating onto Twitter and Facebook, he said, with Palin in particular showing a knack for launching weeks of news stories with a few sentences on her social networking sites. For instance, nearly 2.5 million people "like" Palin's Facebook page.
It's tempting to read the URL market as an indicator for campaign momentum, but Grossman said that might be off base. Not taken — despite a squatter already sitting on spalin2012.com? Hbarbour2012.com, mromney2012.com, and mhuckabee2012.com.