Finally, my name is mine again. It only took a five-year battle against a so-called "digital troll" who typed my name into a domain registry, bought it, and took up residence there like it was a bridge. And for most of that time, there was pretty much nothing I could do about it.
My name is unique — and, working in media, it's obvious I'd be interested in building my online presence. So when one of my professors at the University of Miami suggested I buy my name as a domain, I didn't even question whether or not it would be available.
But it wasn't. Some enterprising jerk had already bought it, parking a fake real estate web site at the address.
For five years, I checked regularly to see if my name was registered. It always was — but I held off from contacting the owner, because I didn't want him or her to know that I valued it.
Finally, one day last week, I checked again — and the troll had finally let the domain registration lapse. I snapped it up quickly, and my name was mine at last.
So why would someone even bother to buy it in the first place?
Because this kind of domain-name speculating and squatting is an entire niche industry on the web. Clever domain trolls forecast what people might want to buy their names, or generic URLs that might soon be hot properties. Once they buy them, it's up to you to negotiate a dollar amount to get your would-be URLs back.
“It happens every day,” say Jose Martinez, co-founder of a branding and design company called Pixl Graphx. “Now there are companies that do this and e-mail you asking if you want to buy it.”
This happened to David Lat, founder of the legal news web site, AbovetheLaw.com. A law firm going out of business had previously owned the address DL.com, and because of his initials, wrote to Lat to ask if he might be interested in buying it.
The caveat? They were selling it through an auction with a deadline, and a specific asking price: $200,000. Lat declined.
Martinez, meanwhile, admits freely to being a domain troll, or “hog” as he prefers. “If [an available URL costs] over $25, I don’t buy it because I’m cheap,” he sys. “It’s just about a $10 investment.”
Martinez said he owns about 45 names, yet he hasn’t sold any. That's not because he doesn’t want to, but because selling isn’t his only interest.
“I do this for the protection of whatever ideas I have,” he said. Perhaps, he says, he may be able to use the URLs for affiliate marketing, driving traffic to web sites for related businesses.
Last year at a Latino media conference in Miami called Hispanicize, Martinez says he met a woman who wanted his domain name healthykidsmeals.com. Instead of requesting to buy it off, she asked him if he would use it to post information about her company’s products. He agreed.
But as for personal names? Martinez says it's nothing personal — it's just all about the dollar. “Technically they owned that domain,” he says of my personal domain troll. “It’s just a business at the end of the day.”