Data from Wikipedia’s entry on “Domain Name Speculation”
* The number of registrations of .com domain names grew from 23,662,001 in January 2003 to 80,759,835 in January 2009.
Wiki goes on to note that a quirk in the registration rules led to a surge in the practice of “Domaintasting” where a huge bulk order of domain names would be registered for a short time. Only the names that created click revenue from pay per click ads would be kept. This led to new domain hosting companies set up simply to filter for marginally valuable names that could be set up to get click revenue, and then to a new rule in June 2008 from ICANN, the body that oversees domain registrations. ICANN started to limit the number of domains that a registrar could delete in the ICANN “grace period” where no fees were charged. These grace period deletions fell by 99.7% the following year as the practice of “domain tasting” became less profitable.
These last numbers suggest to me that the speculation is not as rampant as most seem to think – ie most sites are multiple page implying content and not speculation. Of course systems like the one I’m testing now at Godaddy that auto-generate several pages of content make it even harder to distinguish between sites that are driven speculatively vs those that are driven more by a passion to communicate or quality initiatives. As the quality, sharable content online increases and systems become smarter I think we may see that it will be impossible to distinguish between sites created by humans and those made automatically.