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Domain Incite turns 10 today. What the fuck have I done with my life?

Kevin Murphy, February 27, 2020, Gossip

February 27, 2010. That was the day, 10 years ago today, I registered domainincite.com and posted my first post.

Seriously, what the fuck have I done with my life?

Back in 2009, during a hiatus from my previous life as an all-round Silicon Valley tech reporter, I was back in the UK as a budding comedy writer with his foot in the door at the BBC and a handful of broadcast credits.

I made about £1,000 that year. A BBC producer told me that, if I was lucky enough and good enough, my radio sitcom spec script might get commissioned, but that it would take a couple of years and I would probably only make about three grand.

I figured it was time to get a proper job, and do comedy in the evenings, so started doing some regular freelancing, for The Register at first and then something called Thinq (I think, the site doesn’t appear to exist any more).

Around the same time, a friend at a domain registry made me an unsolicited offer of work, ghost-writing white papers for a buck a word. I took it.

I think it was early January 2010 that I first started thinking about starting up my own blog. I was probably inspired by security reporter Brian Krebs, who I admired and who’d recently left the Washington Post to launch Krebs On Security.

Internet security and domain names were the two areas of tech where I calculated I had the knowledge and contacts to make a go of it as a solo enterprise. I’d always been slightly more drawn to the domain name side, and that was the area where it looked like I could find a niche.

I was of course already aware of Andrew Allemann’s excellent Domain Name Wire and a few other blogs, but it seemed to me there were very much focused on the domainer part of the industry and there was an opportunity to focus more on the the sell-side and ICANN-related news.

The good thing about ICANN was that, even if the organization was not interested in talking to a lowly blogger, its transparency regime would mean there would be no shortage of material for anyone prepared to trawl through a 200-page PDF for nuggets, I reckoned.

And, like the security beat, there would be no shortage of scumbags to write about.

I recall brainstorming branding ideas with my dad in his living room, 10 years ago today.

I wanted something that conveyed a certain cheekiness or snarkiness. I didn’t want DI to be a dry recounting of events. No doubt influenced by years of enjoying The Register, and my brief foray into the world of comedy, I wanted to be humorous without resorting to fabrication, satire, or parody.

My first domain preference was already registered by a domainer. I offered him $100 for it. He countered with $1,000, and that was the end of that negotiation. He still owns it.

When I settled upon the punny domainincite.com, I was fully aware that it failed the radio test, but I was not too concerned. I figured the chances of my ever having to spell it out on the radio were pretty slim (it only took a couple of years to be proven wrong about that) and it did not seem to affect my ability to get people to read the site.

A few months later, I showed up at ICANN’s public meeting in Brussels, my first in-person meeting for a few years.

I recall walking the streets near the venue and having to stop and shake hands with a familiar face every few minutes. It very much felt like I’d rediscovered a community I had never really considered myself a part of previously. Most of them were already enthusiastic DI readers.

It felt pretty good.

Almost a decade later, I’m a much more miserable person, and I find myself asking: what the fuck have I done with my life?

I write about domain names for a living.

Domain names.

Entries in a database.

I’ve spent a decade thinking about what most people will probably never consider spending 10 minutes thinking about.

Not only does my domain fail the radio test, but my career choice almost always fails the taxi driver test (or, less frequently, the Tinder date test).

I’m sure most people reading this post will know what I’m talking about. You’re stuck in traffic with a chatty cabby, and before long you’re attempting to explain what you do for a living.

His eyes glaze over.

“No, no,” you say. “Some of it’s really, really interesting.”

Then you roll out your top few anecdotes — probably about wedge issues like censorship, or big secondary market sales — and before you know it the driver has fallen unconscious and fucked the car through the window of a convenience store, seriously injuring an elderly woman.

You try to explain to the arriving police what happened, but when it gets to the bit about what you do for a living you’re very quickly arrested for wasting police time.

You now have a permanent criminal record and no chance of being employed by anyone else. The elderly woman eventually recovers, but you don’t. You’re stuck. Stuck!

It’s happened to all of us, I’m sure.

The ticking over of a decade is always a time for reflection, is what I’m getting at.

Having done a fair bit of that recently, I like to think I’ve made more friends than enemies writing DI, but I’m sure a lot of those people who shook my hand in Brussels now think I’m a utter prick.

This goes with the territory for any reporter, but it’s a lot harder to bear when you’re solo. The life of a blogger can be a lonely one. There’s no bustling newsroom banter, no editor to give you advice on tricky stories, no subs to catch your typoes, no lawyers to get your back when you screw up.

It’s easy in that situation to become soft.

While I treat every company, organization or individual I write about as fairly as I can, I’ve started to wonder whether sometimes I’m too quick to default to believing the party line, particularly but not exclusively when it comes to ICANN.

I’ve genuinely written a 3,000-word article Devil’s-advocating in favor of the forthcoming .com price increases. I may or may not publish it.

I’ve come to realize in recent weeks that ICANN is not the soft and cuddly community I found in Brussels, and it probably deserves a much more critical eye than I’ve been providing lately.

So, faced with the existential crises of a 10-year anniversary, a critical reevaluation of your life choices, and accidentally putting a wholly fictional elderly woman in hospital, you’re faced with a stark choice: throw in your cards, or double-down.

I’m doubling down.

I was never a fan of the sunk-cost fallacy anyway.

Covid-19: It’s official, domainers are faster than journalists

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2020, Gossip

The .com domains matching the new name of Coronavirus were registered today before even the first news reports emerged.

The World Health Organization today officially named the deadly disease Covid-19. CO for Corona, VI for virus, D for disease and 19 for 2019, the year in which it was discovered.

The announcement was made at a WHO press conference in Geneva this afternoon. The press conference, which streamed live on YouTube seems to have kicked off shortly after 1500 UTC.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus officially named the disease Covid-19 not too long after the press conference started.

At 1509 UTC, WHO’s official Twitter account tweeted:

Within five minutes, an anonymous domainer had picked up covid-19.com — according to Whois records, it was created at NameCheap at at 1513 UTC.

But domainers hate hyphens, right?

Even after Tedros spelled it out for clarity, including the hyphen, a domainer with an even fastest trigger finger decided to omit it, registering the domain covid19.com at 1510 UTC, three whole minutes before the hyphen version and an extremely impressive ONE MINUTE after the WHO tweet.

As far as print journalists go, you have to wait a full thirty minutes before you start to see lines from the likes of Reuters and the AFP.

The lesson here is clear: if you’re one of those domainers who tries to snap up novel terms from the news as quickly as possible, you need to cut out the middleman and go directly to source.

And ignore the bloggers, too. It took me two and a half hours after the WHO tweet to publish this post.

I’m pathetic.

Watch: climate change denier on why she trusts .org more than .com

Kevin Murphy, February 10, 2020, Gossip

This isn’t news, but I found it amusing, irritating, and slightly confusing — a clip of a climate change denier rubbishing a scientific article because it appears on a .com domain rather than a .org.

The video below, featuring comedian Joe Rogan interviewing conservative political commentator Candace Owens, dates from May 2018, but I first came across it when it popped up on Reddit’s front page this morning.

In it, Rogan attempts to school Owens on why human-influenced climate change, which she believed is a liberal conspiracy, is a scientific fact. At one point, his producer pulls up an article from Scientific American, the respected, 174-year-old popular science magazine, which uses scientificamerican.com.

Owens responds:

What web site is this? .com though? That means it’s making money. I don’t trust that. If it was a .org I would probably take that, but this is just a random web site.

The argument has been made, in the ongoing controversy over .org’s sale to Ethos Capital, that .org domains carry a higher level of trust than other TLDs, through the mistaken belief that you need to be a not-for-profit in order to own one, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard that belief openly expressed in a widely-viewed forum by a public figure, albeit not a very bright one.

Confusingly, at around the 11.50 mark in the video, Owens starts banging on about how she doesn’t trust research conducted by “.orgs” such as mediamatters.org.

She appears to be someone who, in the age of fake news, pays attention to TLDs when deciding what is and isn’t true online. I can’t decide whether that’s an admirable quality or not. At least she has a filter, I guess.

Montreal airport thinks DI is porn

Kevin Murphy, November 11, 2019, Gossip

The web site you’re reading right now is classified as “pornography/sex” by Montreal airport, according to DI readers.

Some readers en route home from ICANN 66 last week noticed that they couldn’t access the site over the airport’s WiFi and instead got this warning:

Porn

Given how frequently I’ve used words such as “porn” in the past — it comes up all the time in stories related to censorship, abuse, and certain gTLDs — I think it’s pretty clear that DI has tripped a lazy keyword filter created by a crappy censorware vendor.

Datavalet appears to have WiFi content filtering contracts with several major hotel chains and airlines, including Air Canada.

Hopefully, nobody was too inconvenienced by this, but I’d still be interested to hear if anyone’s experience similar issues while travelling elsewhere.

Out of an abundance of caution, I shall endeavor to make my coverage of domain name politics less sexually arousing in future.

Correction: the 10 most-used dot-brands

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2019, Gossip

Regular readers may recall that back in May DI published an article entitled “These are the 10 most-used dot-brands”.

It turns out the article, which looked at how 10 dot-brand gTLDs were being used, was based on bad data — the result of a single-character typo in the software I used to compile the data.

It was just dead wrong. I’ve therefore deleted the post.

It’s DI policy to always correct articles when errors are discovered, and to issue full corrections, such as this one, for particularly egregious balls-ups.

Sorry about that.

Lauded domainer arrested over $2.4 million “extortion”

Kevin Murphy, May 18, 2018, Gossip

Noted domain investor Sahar Sarid is among four men charged in California yesterday with an alleged extortion scam related to the web site Mugshots.com.

He was reportedly arrested in Florida alongside Thomas Keesee, while in California Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie and David Usdan have also been charged.

The four are alleged to be the owners of Mugshots.com, which republishes the mugshots and arrest records, copied from public documents, of people arrested in various parts of the US.

They have been charged with extortion, money laundering, and identity theft.

According to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the site was funded by charging the subjects of the mugshots a $399 fee to have their photos and records “unpublished”.

Many of the people affected were innocent of any crime and had been arrested by mistake, Becerra said.

The site collected over $2.4 million in removal fees from 5,307 people over three years, according to Becerra. In a statement, he said:

This pay-for-removal scheme attempts to profit off of someone else’s humiliation. Those who can’t afford to pay into this scheme to have their information removed pay the price when they look for a job, housing, or try to build relationships with others. This is exploitation, plain and simple.

According to court documents — which make a fairly horrific read — Sarid is a hidden beneficiary of Mugshots.com.

He told TheDomains back in 2012 that he’d sold Mugshots in 2011, but prosecutors now allege that the sale was fictitious and that he continued to collect money from the alleged scam.

Sarid gained fame during the domain speculation heyday of the mid-2000s, profiled in a DN Journal cover story in 2007, around the same time he was inducted into the now-defunct TRAFFIC Hall of Fame.

DN Journal publisher Ron Jackson today noted that Sarid has since been the subject of rumors of “questionable business practices”.

ICANN heads to Mar-a-Lago for budget crisis talks

Kevin Murphy, April 1, 2018, Gossip

Cash-strapped ICANN has invited select community members to emergency budget talks at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, DI has learned.

The three-day summit next week will address how best to spend the organization’s $138 million annual budget, along with its $236 million auction proceeds war chest and its $80 million of leftover new gTLD application fees.

“Recent public comments have made it clear than many valued ICANN community members have misunderstood our FY19 budget,” CEO Goran Marby said. “I believe a long weekend of intensive discussions at Mar-a-Lago should persuade the community that we’re actually on the right track.”

To encourage participation from an increasingly weary volunteer pool, attendees will be treated to complimentary spa treatments, golfing, and the most beautiful pieces of chocolate cake, he said.

DI has managed to obtain a preliminary agenda for the summit, which can be read here (pdf).

Business-class flights and three nights’ accommodation at the exclusive members club will be covered by ICANN.

Mar-a-Lago, purchased by Donald Trump in the 1980s, is a “six-star” resort in Palm Beach, Florida. It was originally a five-star hotel, until 2004 when Trump purchased the one-star hotel next door and knocked through.

Marby defended the choice of venue, pointing out that the guest list is to be strictly limited to the ICANN board of directors, industry CEOs, and members of the Intellectual Property Constituency.

DI understands that the IPC will be permitted to invite members of the Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group to attend, should they require golf caddies.

To ensure gender diversity, all attendees will be able to bring along their spouses or partners. ICANN will make up any shortfall by hiring decorative females from a pool of Trump litigants.

A small support team of 50 ICANN staffers will also be available to hand out fresh towels, collect empty glasses, and so on.

Remote participation will be available via AOL Instant Messenger.

Chief financial officer Xavier Calvez declined to disclose the cost of the summit, citing privacy concerns caused by “GDPR or something”, but DI understands it is to be accounted for as a line item in ICANN’s Federal lobbying disclosure.

Calvez said ICANN has managed to negotiate “substantial” bulk discounts on the usual $200,000 Mar-a-Lago membership fees and $2,000-a-night room rates.

The cost will also be offset by sponsorship contributions from ICANNwiki and the National Rifle Association, he said.

Registry and registrar CEOs polled by DI this weekend were split on whether they would attend.

“Of course I’m going,” Blacknight CEO Michele Neylon told us by phone from an airport lounge in Kigali.

But .xyz chief Daniel Negari said he would attend only if he can secure sufficient funding for his bus fare to the airport.

Among the cost-cutting proposals on the menu, DI understands, is a request to consolidate all current and future policy working groups into a single, unified WG.

Sources say this would have the added benefit of reducing the annual policy implementation budget to zero dollars between now and, at the earliest, 2045.

Get drunk on Neustar’s tab and it will donate money to hurricane relief

Kevin Murphy, March 5, 2018, Gossip

Neustar has promised to donate thousands of dollars to a Puerto Rican hurricane relief charity, providng enough people show up to its open bar event in San Juan next week.

It’s fairly standard for domain companies of Neustar’s size to host free after-hours social events during ICANN meetings, but this time the company said it will donate $25 for each attendee to charity.

The beneficiary is the Puerto Rico Resistance Fund, operated by Americas for Conservation and the Arts, which is helping rebuild the island after Hurricane Maria hit it for six last September.

“We want to bring together the community, help spread awareness of the hardship and devastation in Puerto Rico, and make our community proud they are contributing in a small way financially,” Neustar VP Lori Anne Wardi told DI.

With the company telling me it expects 500 guests or more to the invitation-only event, expect a total donation topping $12,500.

The venue is the Antiguo Casino, which appears to be about a 10-minute taxi ride from the Puerto Rico Convention Center, at which the ICANN 61 public meeting is being held.

The event runs from 1900 to 2330 local time.

The official death toll in Puerto Rico from Maria was 64, but a New York Times analysis puts the number at closer to 1,000. Parts of the island, a US territory, are still suffering from infrastructure problems such as power outages.

Berkens sues Twitter over hacked account

Kevin Murphy, December 28, 2017, Gossip

Blogger and high-profile domain investor Mike Berkens of TheDomains.com has sued Twitter for allowing his account to be hacked and failing to rectify the problem.

As industry Twitter users will no doubt already be aware, Berkens’ account @thedomains came under the control of an unknown hacker on Friday last week.

The avatar was changed from the The Domains logo to the face of an East Asian man and tweets from the account began to sound out of character.

Despite the attack being reported to Twitter by Berkens and others (including yours truly), the account does not yet appear to have been returned to its proper owner.

In a complaint filed yesterday in Northern California, Berkens claims Twitter “still has done nothing to substantially acknowledge, investigate or respond to Plaintiffs’ complaint, and restore Plaintiffs’ access to the Account.”

The suit, which also names (as Does) the unknown hackers, has nine counts ranging from computer fraud to trademark infringement to negligence and breach of contract.

Berkens wants his account back, as well as damages. He’s currently tweeting from @thedomainscom as a temporary workaround.

The complaint, kindly donated by George Kirikos, can be read here (pdf).

Domain President? Dicker fallout continues as Schwartz unleashes tweetstorm

Kevin Murphy, June 12, 2017, Gossip

“Domain King” domain investor Rick Schwartz has twunleashed a twirade of Twitter twabuse about deleted podcasts that would put Donald Trump to shame.

Starting late Sunday night and apparently still ongoing at time of publication, Schwartz has been haranguing Michael Cyger, publisher of the DomainSherpa and DNAcademy investor sites, about dozens of deleted DomainSherpa podcasts.

So far, he’s hit send on scores of tweets. A very small sample:

Cyger was the host of the DomainSherpa video podcast, which regularly featured Schwartz and TheDomains publisher Mike Berkens as guests.

Also a regular guest was industry pariah Adam Dicker, who many domainers believe has used shady business practices in his dealings with others in the community.

After stories began to emerge of Dicker’s alleged wrongdoings, Cyger decided to stop using him as a guest. He subsequently removed all previous shows featuring Dicker from the DomainSherpa web site.

Now, Schwartz and Berkens are pissed that the hundreds of hours they volunteered into appearing on the show were wasted, and that hundreds of social media links they used to promote the shows are useless.

The three parties chatted by phone back in March, all seem to agree, about how to resolve this issue.

Cyger says it was agreed that the deleted shows would be replaced by an explanation that the show had been removed.

But Berkens and Schwartz claim that Cyger has in fact been ignoring their requests to reinstate the shows — hence the tweetstorm over the last 24 hours. Cyger denies that claim, and says he believes he did the right thing by removing the shows.

I, for the record, have no opinion on the matter.