On Becoming The World’s Pre-Eminent Domainologist

The Wall Street Journal Mention

Last Wednesday I was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal (right there on the front of the second section of one of the world’s most prestigious newspapers), being referred to as the “world’s pre-eminent domainologist” (an article that has been referenced in countless other sources now, including some errant attributions, such as the Toronto Star seemingly making me a Verisign employee, which of course I’m not).

Apparently — or so my wife tells me, given that I don’t listen to or read anything that involves me in any way, and even when she talks about this stuff I cover my ears and basically incant “LaLaLa”s to drown it out — it was a well-written, humorous piece. While I apparently played the part of a fringe, bit-player, my name does appear quite early in the article, and that’s pretty neat to me.

The mention doesn’t bring me monetary rewards, and it really doesn’t contribute to my professional success in any measurable way (though it’s very neat being mentioned, and it was a hugely fun process working with Lee to get the raw material and provide some basic quotes, I’m not really in the business of domain names, and it isn’t really a hobby of mine — being attributed in such a way isn’t really something I really want to leverage), but it is yet another weird, discordant mention in mainstream media.

So long as it isn’t the notorious sort of mention,somehow it all works into my grand plan of world domination. Bwahahahaha! <rubs eyebrows>

Origins

It all began with a couple of emails from Lee. He indicated that he was from the WSJ, and was interested in talking with me about an article he was considering. After some difficulty finding a common point of availability, we finally chatted in person. This was around Wednesday of the week before.

That evening Lee recorded an initial phone interview, indicating that he had come across my article from back in March, and knew that it had seen a lot of success (for those who didn’t see it, it was an article that took off like wildfire across the net, seeing front page action on Digg, Reddit, and mentions from numerous `A-list’ bloggers. Quite a few of the entries on here have seen wide “link-love”, but the domain name entries absolutely blew all prior — and following — records away, seeing close to 100,000 visitors a day for a period of time,still maintaining a lot of incoming interest).

Given that he hadn’t come across similar research (he did ask if I knew anyone else doing similar research, perhaps probing to see if I was just a sub-eminent domainologist, and perhaps I would defer to a great authority), he decided to base his article on information I provided, both in the initial article and numerous follow-up queries he asked me to run.

One particularly exhaustive query took around 20 hours of runtime.

All in all it was a lot of fun, and from my end was nothing more than a couple of very brief phone interviews, and then some randomly kicked off queries and emailed results.

What a WSJ Mention Gets You

Despite the fact that the article in question provides limited personally identifying information (and while it’s accurate, it is a bit misleading for some. For instance I’m not in New York City –I’m actually here in a suburb of Toronto — and the article of course apparently doesn’t mention this blog), the immediate effect of the article was dozens of phone calls from people across the US — and the world — asking for my opinions on business ideas, asking if domain names people held were good ones, asking if I was interested in partnering on some project or other, asking how to get access to the raw data (see the comments in the main entry — there’s a link to the fax forms), and asking how I ended up being referenced in a WSJ article.

This blog also saw a lot of activity because of the article, with a number of people coming here after searching up obvious terms like “Dennis Forbes domain name“. I’m still seeing WSJ-related search activity today (maybe hermits are just adding the issue to their apartment newspaper mountains).

I’ve received requests for radio interviews. I’ve done a couple of those before, and it isn’t my favourite genre: I’m too full of self-doubt when it comes to accuracy, and mortally fear the possibility of saying something incorrect in response to an adhoc question. In such an instance I’d rather say nothing until I can verify, with certainty, that what I’m saying is correct. I haven’t been “blessed” with the confidence (sometimes founded on arrogance) that allows some to make the most absurd of proclamations without doubt or hesitation. I’ve gotten requests for, and responded to, several email interviews.

All in all a very entertaining process, and it was interesting to take part in it. It has me looking for my next angle for media exposure.

How To Become The World’s Pre-Eminent Domainologist

Of course Lee was being facetious when he assigned me with this title, and really I found it gut-busting hilarious when I heard it myself.

The original domain name article actually came about because I needed a medium-sized database to demonstrate high-performance database operations. While I was indeed curious about domain names,ultimately I requested access purely to have a large set of data to demonstrate some index-backed operations. I was shocked when I discovered that one could actually acquire a copy of the zonefile.

I really haven’t been poring over zone files for years, amazingly reading trends and consistencies from streams of raw data.

After receiving the data, I saw that it really was interesting and entertaining, so in a single night I threw together the original article: Right after getting my credentials from Verisign, I downloaded the 850MB compressed file, extracted, imported and cleansed it, and then ran some humorous queries to see if it yielded interesting results. Seeing some of the answers, I thought it would be good blog fodder so I tossed an article together and put it online.

Over the next week I only had a free moment here and there, so I belatedly put up a follow-up article, in my haste skipping many of the tests that I had promised (for instance the English language queries, which I only finally finished at Lee’s request).

My interest was short-term, and my technique was mostly driven by the biggest bang-for-the-buck queries that would yield interesting blog material, while allowing me to save my time for my family and my profession (in that order). I wasn’t really sitting there month after month anxiously watching streaming domain name data, inferring complex patterns like a savant. Instead it was a couple of low-hanging fruit queries against the imported dataset, writing up the results when it was unexpected or entertaining.

Of course then the material seemed to be exhausted (the follow-up article saw much less attention), and my personal curiousity waned. The database then sat and collected bitular rust.

It’s a marvel that it didn’t get deleted to free up room for my prime-number database, or my ridiculously expanding set of digital pictures.

Then Lee called, I fired up the database — to my surprize I still had it — and the rest is history.

On Making A Hugely Popular Blog Entry

Populism has seldom been a goal of these entries, but a couple of entries, not to mention observations of the meme sites, have given me some insights into what are some elements that increase the probability of an entry taking off. Let’s just say that I’m the World’s Pre-Eminent Meme Site Popularity Assessment Expert (WPEMSPA, aka Wimpy-Sumpa).

  • Obvious topic, and easy consumption – There is a general inverse correlation between number of words in an article/entry relative to its popularity on sites such as Digg and Reddit, not to mention blog references. This certainly isn’t universal — I’ve come across some incredible essays on those sites — but the easiest pages to get widely linked include a relatively significant amount of graphics, or a very limited amount of text.Note the predominance of “top 10” style entries (listicles), where readers don’t even have to read the summaries, instead deriving impressions based only on the list positions.Bloggers love to reference these sorts of articles because it saves time “RTFMing”, allowing them to skim and post summaries of dozens of stories they’ve seen across the web without the hassle of actually reading them (it would be embarrassing to link something to later find it include support for unpopular things). Generally the only lengthy articles that get widely linked are those from sites such as the NYTimes, or by long known industry figures such as Paul Graham, because people can skim and just assume the rest of the content, presuming that the author or publisher assures them that the rest must be half decent as well.
  • Everyone can relate – Almost everyone, including the non-technical, has contemplated the idea of creating the next .COM success story, jetting around in their own personal 737. Many have visited a registrar, desperately punching in combinations in hopes that by some amazing coincidence no one ever bothered registering cars.com and similar low-hanging domains. They heard the get rich quick stories, so they want to get rich. And quick!

That’s about it. Create entries covering everyday, generalist topics, and populate it with easy to digest graphics, and summaries that give cursory linkubators comfort that they’re linking something interesting.

Enjoy the endless incoming traffic!