Sunday, February 27, 2022

Do You Need a Domain Name? Probably Not.

Before Google, a domain name was your street address on the Internet.  Today, people have Internet GPS to find you - search engines.

NOTE:  This is an older posting I just got aaround to finishing today.

I wrote an article many years back about the .xyz domain name scam.  To summarize, they came up with this new .xyz domain name extension, and some domain name hosts automatically signed you up for these for free - for a year.  After the year was up, they would start dunning you to pay for the unnecessary and unordered domain name, saying that you had "ordered" it.  No doubt many small companies paid, thinking their main domain name was expiring.

But I raised the question in that article, are domain names still worth anything?  Back in the heyday of the Internet, you could register and then ransom it to the company.  They have since passed laws about this, so it is harder to do - with registered trademarks.  In fact, it was pretty hard to do to begin with.  The most you could expect is to sell a domain name for less money than the legal fees involved in forcing your to give it up.

It is like the McDonald's cup-o-coffee case, which has acquired urban legend status.  Depending on your political views, it is either an example of a heartless big mean corporation intentionally scalding the vaginas of old ladies, or an example of a litigation system run amok.  The answer is somewhere in-between.  No, McDonald's coffee wasn't hotter than coffee made elsewhere (including in your own home, as I illustrated with a thermometer).  And yes, the lady was injured horribly - but then again, who uses their crotch as a cupholder for hot coffee? Personal responsibility comes into play.   And since that case, well, the Starbucks you buy today is the same temperature as the evil McDonald's coffee.  The only difference is we put warning notices on the cups today, and every car sold in America has 20 cupholders.

The urban legend around domain names is about the same.  Yes, some people made money registering domain names and selling them to the companies that rightfully should have had them.  Others, well, they didn't fare as well.  The whole thing blew over after a few court cases and when the law was changed.  The problem is, of course, that two companies can have the same name. One reason I use my full name Robert Platt Bell is not vanity, but because there are a LOT of Robert Bells out there, including some sort of preacher dude and more than one professional athlete.  In fact, my YouTube channel is named Robert Bell and I am sure the minister guy isn't happy about that!  Maybe that is why he goes as "Rob Bell" instead.  Just a guess.

The grand-daddy case involving this was the Panavision case.  A guy went out and registered a plethora of domain names of famous companies and trademarks, including "Panavision" which is a name of a particular filming format which squeezed wide-screen images into standard 35 mm film (back in the day).  He set up a website with a few photos of "Pana, Illinois" and claimed this was legitimate use of the domain name.  After all, he wasn't profiting from it, right?  I mean, other than the money he hoped to make selling the domain name to the Panavision people.

The urban legend at the time was that this guy was making millions selling these domain names.  But in reality, he was asking only a few thousand dollars apiece for the domain names in question, so it is unclear that he made any amount of money over this.  In fact, after legal expenses, he probably was cleaned out.  But the whole story plays to the idea that "the little guy" can score big by being wily and clever.  It is another example of poverty stories - which keep people down.

Sure, maybe Coca-Cola needs an easily recognizable domain name.    But what about you and me?  What about small businesses?   There, the need is far less.  I registered but never really used the domain for much.  I wasn't interested in developing a website and in fact, most law firm websites seem to me to be cobwebsites - not a lot of information in them, and this is often by design.  You never want to hand out free advice to clients, right?  And so much gets outdated so quickly that older articles can be bad advice or even malpractice - which is why I erased much of my old website as it was woefully outdated (and of course, I am retired).

I paid to register the domain name with network solutions, which at the time, had a monopoly on the business.  My domain name expires in 2036, and is not set to auto-renew.  I am not sure why I even paid for it until then - after all, I am retired.  Maybe I will put up some pictures on the site or articles or link it to my blog or something. Today, you can register your domain name with a number of companies, including Google or Go-Daddy (who advertises a lot).  Myself, I don't think they are all that important anymore.  People find your business through Search Engine Optimization or through word-of-mouth.  SEO is fine and all, but I for one am skeptical of the first five hits on Google.  I tend to scroll down to find things, and often, I have to search several times on Google to get away from what they want to show me versus what I am looking for.  The system is broken.

Once in a while, though, domain names do direct you to the proper site.  However, I notice lately that Chrome is basically a google search engine - you type in a URL and Chrome goes to Google which shows you that site - along with competing sites from advertisers.  For example, we have an old church pew that we use in our dining room on one side of the dining table (a 200-year-old slab of wood from Mark's Dad's rest home he ran in Westcheser). We wanted a cushion for it, and jokingly, I typed in and sure enough found the best place to get church pew cushions made!   But such results are usually few and far between.

I am not sure what the point of all this is, other that it is interesting how, at one time, domain names seemed oh-so-important but today they are hardly thought of.  If you have a company and want to register a domain name and it is already taken, well, you can register something else and hardly be affected.  If you have a micro-brewery and the name of your brewery is already registered to someone else, well, you can pick something like "" and it will work as well, if not better.  People will likely find your website through Google anyway, if they even bother to look for your website in the first place. Sadly, your Facebook page is probably more important today, and I notice that most companies put a lot of effort into their Facebook presence and their website is usually outdated.

How long before that changes?  That's why Zuckerstein is jumping on this "Metaverse" nonsense, hoping to catch the next big wave as the old one peters out.  And in that regard he is being smart - but he has to hope it is a big wave and not just a splash in a puddle.

The Internet changes dramatically in a very short period of time.  Things we think of as "institutions" on the Internet are usually only a few years old - maybe a decade at most.  And as suddenly as they hit the scene, they evaporate - like AOL or MySpace or Second Life.

Domain names are the same way.  Sure, like AOL, Myspace, or Second Life they are still around - and still used.  But the critical importance we attached to them at one time seems, in retrospect, to be overblown.

There is a lesson in there somewhere, if we bother to look.