A Decade of Being the World’s Pre-Eminent Domainologist

It’s been 10 years since I had a brief moment of glory1 with the whole domain names hoopla. At that time I had posted a lazy analysis of the root .COM dump, and it satisfied a lot of people’s curiosity. It was linked widely, eventually leading to an NPR radio interview, a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal (okay…front of the second section), and a variety of radio and news interviews.

It was an educational experience for me because I had been doing the blogging thing for a while, largely deeply technical pieces, seeing little success and no uptake2. Then I posted something that seemed like a bit of superficial fluff and saw enormous success (from a blogging sense, if readers and links are the measure of worth). I still see several dozen visitors a day coming from random links around the tubes to those old domain name entries.

I posted a brief follow-up to it then. After the attention, countless others tried to grab some of that magic, an industry of data scientists suddenly aware that you could access the zone files (there’s also the CZDS for the wide plethora of new TLDs).

As mentioned then, there was really no personal advantage in it for me.

I don’t do anything professionally related to domain names (beyond, of course, operating on the web, but that applies to almost everyone now), so I couldn’t spin it into some sort of product or service.

Career wise it was a wash: I was working at a small financial services company and it was a bit of an ego boost when the partners were excited to see their name in the Wall Street Journal. That was apparently quite a coup, and they got calls from various clients who all started their day with the WSJ. Which was just random chance, as I had literally just started working with them after a period doing the consulting thing (I’ve gone back and forth during my career, the demands of family life dictating changes of positions).

But it was fun, which was all I really intended from it. Still have a couple of copies of the WSJ issue in a drawer somewhere. Can’t believe it’s been ten whole years.

1 – I had some brief exposure for promoting SVG in a period when it was floundering: I managed to convince Microsoft to run it in an issue of their MSDN Magazine, which led to quite a lot of chatter and excitement about the technology, many seeing this as Microsoft endorsement (at the time the company was pushing the competing VML, and Flash seemed to be strangling SVG). I also proposed a change to Firefox that made it much more competitive in artificial benchmarks and some real world situations. I contributed to a variety of privacy efforts, including making people aware of disclosing metadata on JPEG photographs, with a very popular tool to remove it (which remarkably still sees almost 100 direct downloads each day, and an unknown indirect number), and contributions to various privacy related projects. Those are my pretty middling claims to fame, as most of my career has been doing hidden stuff for a shadowy cabal of companies. The little public bits of exposure were a delightful change.

2 – One of the things about “blogging” that I noted early on is that you have to have a niche or common perspective to pander to a crowd. Be a C# guy talking about C#, and why C# and .NET is the greatest. A Go guy talking about Go. An Apple booster heralding Apple’s choices, and criticizing opponents consistently and predictably. Like politics in technology, you need to align with a group, pandering to their beliefs, and they’ll carry you on their shoulders.

But technology is seldom so narrow, and few choices aren’t a perilous mix of pros and cons.

If you don’t stick to a niche you need to make “easy listening” sorts of articles, which the DNS entry satisfied (which has the added advantage that they’re dramatically easier to write).

Alternately — and the best option of all — just be a really good writer making great content. I don’t satisfy that requirement, so I’m somewhere between niche and easy listening.