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98.07.01
Artists in Lab Coats.
Call it "the work of art in the age of scientific photography."

98.06.24
Armchair Activism.

Those too busy (or lazy) for environmental causes have no more excuses.

98.06.18
Free Truman Burbank!

For some, television's pernicious influence is no joking matter.

98.06.04
Alexandria's Ghosts.

As the Internet makes abundantly clear, the line between an archive and a rubbish heap is a fine one.

98.05.27
I Thee Web

Get me to the church online.

98.05.20
Virtuala Esperanto

A language of optimists takes root on the Internet.

98.05.13
6 Billion Human Beings

An online exhibit from the Museum of Natural History in Paris looks at our burgeoning humanity, en masse and one at a time.

98.05.06
Beyond Interface

The state of art on the Net.

98.04.29
Child's Play

The CIA reaches out to a new generation of spies.

98.04.23
Multicultural Lite

A multimedia "essay" has technology serve humanity, and vice versa.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
July 8, 1998

Internet Goldrush If the little Yemen Arab Republic were to decide today to stake out a high-profile presence for itself on the World Wide Web, the people who tried to register an Internet address for the country would be in for a bit of a shock: they would find that the domain name www.yemen.com belongs to a certain John C. Black of West 11th Avenue in Vancouver, British Columbia. The wily Mr. Black, it turns out, also appears to have his hands on the rights to domain names all over the map, among them afghanistan.com, bhutan.com, ethiopia.com, guam.com, unitedkingdom.com, and vaticancity.com. Black isn't interested in developing Web sites for these places, of course. He's one of a growing number of speculators who have in recent years grabbed up easily available and inexpensive Internet domain names in the hopes of making big money down the road. Obviously, all that the Yemenis have to do to acquire www.yemen.com -- an address with considerable economic value to Yemen and almost none to anybody else -- is name the right price.

Mining the Net Chances are that Mr. Black got rights to his many domain names by registering with Network Solutions, the private company that currently processes -- on a first-come, first-serve basis, in cooperation with the National Science Foundation -- almost all standard requests for Internet addresses. The fee for each new name is currently $70 ($35 a year for two years); subsequently rights to names must be renewed for $35 each year. That's clearly small change to the minds of investors thinking euphorically about the proceeds that might be made from the sale of a uniquely desirable address to a large corporation or international government. (The owner of television.com, for example, oozes rich, chocolatey smugness when he writes in his online sales pitch that he finds himself "in possession of an asset which would be considerably more useful to other organizations than it is to me"; he claims confidently that he'll be able to net well over a million dollars on the sale of the name.) The result has been an all-out stampede for valuable Internet addresses that is regularly likened to the Oklahoma land rush and the California gold rush, characterizations that are apt both because a very lucky few will surely strike it rich and because the overwhelming majority of speculators will find themselves holding onto relatively worthless pieces of property.

As is always the case in land grabs, just about all of the good stuff has quickly been snapped up -- at least, in this case, until the number of primary domains such as .com, .org, and .net is increased. The creation of new primary domains has lately been a topic of vehement debate -- the current registration system is under attack worldwide, particularly in Europe, as being unfairly dominated by the Americans, and proposals are currently being seriously considered to break Network Solutions' virtual monopoly. How the system will evolve is anybody's guess: technological or political changes could suddenly render the current market obsolete, perhaps leading the owner of television.com to rue the day he turned down C|NET's offer of $50,000 for the name.

That ambiguity hasn't stopped the rapid growth of a lively online brokerage market, however, based on the idea that the buying, selling, and bartering of domain names will soon become as routine (and as likely to provide regular commissions) as normal real estate transactions are today. One of the best guides to the emerging complexities of this market -- and to the domain-name registration process in general -- is Internet Gold Rush, a valuable resource that, among other things, allows visitors to find out what names are still available and who owns those that aren't, responds to frequently asked questions about the buying and selling of domain names, and provides links to a host of domain-name brokers. Anybody thinking about investing in Internet real estate would be well served by studying this site -- and that surely includes the government of Yemen.

Discuss this Web Citation in the Digital Culture forum of Post & Riposte.


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