Couple days ago, I registered or.in. How awesome is that!? Today, I don’t have it. Just in case you happen to be reading this and somehow don’t know how large an internet nerd I am, I am a large internet nerd. This would be a life achievement. Matt Mullenweg, creator of WordPress, owns the singular and unavoidably memorable ma.tt. He inspired me to try. See what he did? He’s didn’t get a .com (cause he’s not a company), nor a .org (he’s not an organization) and not a .name neither (cause anyone who registers anything with that domain is a sucker). Those .coms, .orgs, and .names are collectively called Top Level Domains, or TLDs, and there’s a lot of them. Most of them are for countries, which have the privilege of using only two letters. Every .tv and .fm you’ve ever been to? They’re actually licensed from Tuvalu and, yes, the Federated States of Micronesia (which, interestingly, has one and only one FM radio station1). But how did Matt happen to luck upon a .tt? It’s the assigned country code (ccTLD) domain for Trinidad and Tobago. He paid $500 a year for it. Yikes. It’s their ccTLD; they can charge whatever they want. That clever little trick of using both sides of the dot is known as a domain hack, and they’re pretty neat. Not only does it save on typing, it’s more memorable, simple yet exotic, and… well, special. What web-addict doesn’t dream of having the coolest dot-anything? I do. This was actually the latest big disappointment in a string of small ones.
It started slowly, last December, with a single, simple, unanswered, email:
I’m interested in a domain which has this email address listed as the administrative contact, and would like more information if someone was interested in acquiring it.
I tried again later, trying to stay with the subtle approach:
Hello, I wrote about a month ago and I’m still interested in a domain which has this email address listed as the contact. I would like more information if someone is interested in acquiring it. Thank you.
Then in February I just came out and said it:
I want to buy Zebest.com. Please respond.
In the beginning of May I stumbled on the genius idea that to use the magic word “money:”
I am interested in purchasing the domain “Zebest.com.” I’d like to know if it is available and for how much money. Please reply.
By May 20th I had had enough, and I wasn’t gonna take it anymore:
I would like to buy the domain Zebest.com. I’d like to know how much money it will cost. Additionally, I have decided to email you every day until you reply. Hopefully this will soon elicit response.
The emails to follow were quick and decisive:
- Still very interested in Zebest.com. Please contact me.
- Hey! I’d like to buy zebest.com. Please email me back.
- Hi. I would like to buy Zebest.com. Is it available?
- Hello, my name is Orin and I am interested in the purchase of one of your domains, Zebest.com. Please write back and I will provide you with further information on my offer.
- Hi there! Remember me? I am interested in buying http://www.zebest.com. Please write me back, as I am planning on continuing to write these annoying emails.
- Seriously. Write me back. This is ridiculous.
I tried different email addresses without much luck:
Some of my mail has been returned that I recently sent to Zebest.com. I assume that you are no longer using it. Please email me back with information on the small fee you will charge for it.
After the reverse psychology didn’t work (surprise surprise) I tried contacting the actual web host:
I’ve been trying to get in touch with the owner of the domain “zebest.com” for some time now. The email address listed, [email protected], gets no response. ModernEmpire.com itself is little more than a single image. I’m trying to purchase this domain, and am willing to make an offer. I simply need someone at the other end to actually be there to take my money.
Hope to hear back soon.
Here’s an excerpt of what I got back:
For Future reference please contact the owner of the domain name directly and address your questions to them. This way you will be able to get an accurate and up to date answer that is authorised from the owner. You can obtain the owners details of a domain name by conducting a ‘whois’ look up [ORZ: why yes, thanks for reminding me how I emailed you to begin with!].
Please note that the domain owner is required to list accurate contact details however are not necessarily required to respond to them. If you experience any email bounces or disconnected number please send us proof of these so we may further investigate this. Kind regards.
I’d just about given up hope of ever getting a domain I wanted. Then a series of events led me to try and find a very short domain name, and I was considering zbst.in or orz.gs or something elsewise forgettable. Then… silver sepulcher of the holy squee! Or.in is available!? I bought it at 11:50am June 13th the same minute I found it, and for $14. Can you imagine? Who cares if the drive’s across town, the price is right and the location is beautiful. So I finally got to send the email I’d been building up to:
You know what? I don’t need you or the domain, you lazy Chinese cyber-toad [his address is listed as a P.O. Box in Hong Kong]. I ended up getting something much better. For the record, my last name is ZEBEST. It would’ve been nice to have that name on the internet. I liked the joke I could tell (which I’m sure you don’t get): “this is my dot-com. It’s zebest!” My whole name is built on that kind of silliness, dammit! But no, you couldn’t even write me back. Not once. Not even a one-line reply in another language saying “I can’t understand you. Go away.” or “not for sale!!! >:-[” No, I bet all those emails I sent didn’t even get to a real person. I bet your inbox is set up just like a garbage chute—your own little insta-flush. You don’t care. You just want your monthly pittance from the meager stream of people who have the misfortune to stumble onto your pre-made, low-pagerank, keyword-guessing, popup-popping cesspool. You’re happy to leech off the ugly teat of spam-master Fabulous.com. You are trying hard to make the internet suck, and I hope that every domain you have gets blocked or sold out from under you and you never make a penny.
If ever again we meet, it shall be as enemies. Good day sir.
-Orin Robertjohn Zebest
It was too good to be true, of course. It always was. Of course, it was the next day when the sentence “.IN domain names may be between 3 and 63 characters in length” began to haunt me. I didn’t realize something at the time, which is this: the domain name system is broken. Borked. Gone pear-shaped. Mostly people don’t realize this until they try to get a domain for… really anything desirable.
Practically any .com of any English word eight letters or less is long gone. Every possible combination of two and three-letter domains, including numbers, has been taken, as are most four-letters. Hell, that’s what started the ridiculous trend of of picking nonsense words, favored by web 2.0. So dot-coms are out. Of course, any popular website is going to have evil doppelgangers (even if they don’t make sense)—like another domain hack, del.icio.us, which spawned icio.co.uk, icio.org, and icio.net. And why is this? Cause it turns out you can make money by doing nothing. The domain name system is largely first-come, first-serve. Let’s figure it costs between 5-20 dollars a year to register a “normal” domain, depending on this ‘n’ that TLD. But, in that year, if it gets enough suckers blindly stumbling onto a keyword-based ad page, no matter how painfully anti-useful, you can sell some bulk advertising to other suckers. Hence: “Have your ads seen by four million people on half a million sites! Click here!” Never mind that works out to 8 visitors per site; people still buy those ads. People are suckers.
I’ve heard that ICANN, who runs the whole damned domain system, has been flirting with bankruptcy for many years2. An argument could be made that the motivation behind creating generic TLDs such as .biz, .name, .pro, .info, .coop, and *gasp* .mobi are just a way to milk the squatters for all they’re worth (have you ever actually used a site with one of those domains? One?). It’s just a way for somebody higher up on the sucker pyramid to milk the suckers below. So in that regard I salute their efforts. There’s really not much the rest of us can do, except maybe sign a silly petition. Or get desperate, just because:
Ok, I’ll give you $50. Paypal, Credit Card, money order, whatever. Seriously. Right now I just kind of want the mystery solved.
Funny thing, that. The admin of zebest.com never answered. The next day I found out something important: Modern Empire Internet Limited (or Ltd.) and modernempire.com is run by a scammer who will try to take your money3. It’s owner, who has publicly listed his address as 26H Block 7, Beverly Gardens, Tseung Kwan O, Hong Kong, with a phone number of +852.25255582 and fax of +852.25255582, has several trademark decisions against him4 5 6. His alias/name is Franky Tong7. I really don’t like that he has my domain, but there’s nothing I can do about it except link to incriminating evidence that he should, in fact, be banned from the internet. Can we do that yet? Is that possible?
I still don’t have my domain. That’s the sad part. But, as it turns out, the ICANN overlords have come up with a brilliant solution to the overwhelming domain name supply crunch: let companies register whatever TLD they want. This is wonderful news! Finally, it looks like everyone will have a fair chance to register the name they want, and the economy of scarcity that arises whenever a theoretically-finite yet practically-infinite resource is purposefully restricted will vanish, and we will never have to pay lawyers to deal with ludicrous trademark infringements ever again, and we’ll all live in fairyland with magical squirrels who bring us breakfast in bed every day! My optimism is empirically biased towards sarcasm. But hey, it’s a start. Just not zebest start.