It's been called "the world's most valuable domain asset," yet the company that owns sex.com just can't seem to get rid of it. According to Megan K. Scott, of The Associated Press,
"An auction for the much-sought-after domain name was canceled Wednesday after three creditors filed a petition forcing the owner into bankruptcy...
Escom LLC paid a reported $12 million to $14 million for the domain name in 2006, but the company was unable to repay the debt. The lender ordered (a) foreclosure sale...The opening bid: $1 million."
PETA, bless their plucky, delusional little hearts, would like Escom to give them this unlikely albatross for free, calling it a "win-win situation," since Escom "will enjoy an enormous tax write-off, and people will learn how to help spice up their love lives while helping animals." (In a world where fish turn into "sea kittens," I guess the idea of someone donating a multi-million dollar asset makes sense.) Sex.com, though, remains parked here, with a mildly erotic rotating banner and a nifty section called "love for sale."
None of the other interested parties was named in the article, but I'd bet my bottomdollar.com (owned by pricegrabber) that Frank Schilling has been on the phone. Mr. Schilling is the founder of NAmedia.com, a domain name acquisition company that, since 2001, has been painstakingly gathering a stash of words which are "understood across cultures, which are simple to memorize and understand, which are short or poignant enough to be useful." NAmedia then sells space to advertisers, offering a "Niagara Falls" of traffic from hapless rubes who will type the words, once they have flashed spontaneously into their generic, cross-cultural minds, directly into their address bars (although why they wouldn't use Google remains a mystery).
NAmedia claims that its collection of words receives "organic browser type in traffic from people looking for information based on the keyword weight of the domain name..." One of their names that caught my eye is "atomicbombs," so, to get more information, I typed it in, and got this (yellow highlighting is mine, btw):
Yes, that does say, "The Leading Terrorism Site on the Net" (and, yes, the name is flanked by the Taj Mahal and the American flag). So, I clicked on the first item under "Most Popular Links" (named, appropriately enough, "Atomic Bomb"), which got me here:
In a second experiment, I clicked on the word "Terrorism," which was filed under "Other Relevant Links," and got to the same place, i.e., terra incognita. Now, assuming the terrorists have actually managed to get hold of an atomic bomb and place it under my swing set, I have just wasted several valuable seconds reaching what amounts to a phalanx of grubby, outstretched palms.
Back on NAmedia.com, I found Frank Schilling saying, "I am very proud of the collection I’ve managed to cobble together. It is like nothing else on the Internet." I'm sorry to burst his bubble.com (owned by UK astrologist Jonathan Cainer), but the only thing that sets NAmedia apart from every other domain company is its patina of personability, which portrays Mr. Schilling as either a wide-eyed child in the internet candy store, or a sort of eccentric, 19th Century botanist with an overly large butterfly net.
Look, I know the web is based on commerce. What isn't. But it's just a bit disheartening to find how tawdry the whole thing has become. Yet it's still imagined to be a sacred space where the world is going to reinvent itself in some kind of post-capitalist utopia, where Google, for instance, will really pull out of China over something like censorship. "As a privately owned company," Schilling says of NAmedia, "we have the luxury of putting our ideals ahead of profits." What these non-commercial ideals actually are, though, he doesn't find the words to say. Perhaps he should check his collection.
Bottom line is, this is the much-ballyhooed internet: A giant, flashing neon sign pointing the way into a desolate trailer park, where useless domain names rust quietly in back lots, and fly-specked piles of bread crumbs lead to unopenable back doors, the whole thing haunted by compulsive hoarders with stacks of dusty words and a few gullible backers.
Maybe, though, it's just a new kind of democratization, where every groveling common noun—sex, bomb, bubble—can, like one of Dr. Seuss's plain-bellied Sneetches, jump into the machine and become a strutting Proper Noun, and where, if it can't manage to work its way up to having a capital letter, can at least lure in a capital investor.
I have ideals, too, so if Escom is still interested in a tax write-off, I'll be happy to take sex.com off its sweaty hands. Maybe I can turn it into savethelanguage.com, or something.