Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Talkshot
When I got off the plane in Zagreb, Croatia, my phone rang. "Hello? Mr. Ito?" "Yes?" "Are you in the US, this is Richard." "No. I'm in Croatia, who's this?" "I sent you an email about speaking at a meeting about the "Knowledge Economy in Paris on the 1st of December." "I'm sorry, I can't be there. I'll be in Vancouver for an ICANN meeting." "Oh, will you have an Internet connection?" "Yes." "Will you be available at midnight?" "Ummm... I guess so." "Great. I will send more details by email. *click*"

Of course, I'm probably free at midnight, but I wasn't sure if that was great. After a bit of juggling around I got everything set up with a pretty neat presentation client they were using. I was all ready to go at 11PM for the sound check etc. "Ah, we will start one hour late. At 1AM. Please take a break." Take a break? I forgot that even though I was in Vancouver, the conference was actually in Europe and it wasn't CNN. Hmmm... I was a bit sleep and a bit cranky from lack of sleep, but I was able to give a short talk to 600 people in Paris from a conference room in a hotel in Vancouver and interact with them. All of this was coordinated with a few casual phone calls and an "umm, yeah, I guess I'll be free at midnight." It's 1:30AM now and I have to be up in another few hours.

Just "dropping in" is becoming very easy and on the one hand you don't have to travel all the way to participate in things. On the other hand, you end up on "global time" and have perpetual jet lag. I'm not sure if I like this trend, but one thing for sure, I'm sleepy. Good night.

I think that a large number of people buying domains can't get their first choice name because some "parked domain monetization" operation (cyber-squatter) owns it and is making money running ads on the page. The trick is to sign up for millions of domain names; set up pages and run ads on them; after 1 day delete domains that have no traffic; after 3 days delete names that have some traffic; after 5 days delete pages with marginal traffic; keep the 1% of pages that have enough traffic to be worth keeping the domain. Because of the refund policy, the 99% of pages deleted before the 5 day grace period are refunded in full and the "monetizer" gets to keep the ad revenue generated over those 5 days. (This is called "domain tasting".) See the DNForum page for more information on how this business works. Interestingly, I think Google AdSense probably has boosted the viability of this business. I wonder what percentage of Google's posted $2bn (or so) / yr "traffic acquisition costs" goes to this business. According to Ram Mohan from Afilias, 3 of the big 5 registrars say that they make over $5m-$8m / year from parked domain monetization pages. This means that these people are making more than that from these pages and Google and other ad servers even more.

I wonder if there is any way to close this loophole that effectively enables a no-risk business. I think these monetization businesses are a net-negative value to the community and seems like a loophole exploit. On the other hand, refunds are a legitimate service for legitimate registrants. It is VERY difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate and illegitimate registrant.

In the jungle of such pages, the Kevin Kelly page stands out as my favorite example of responsible domain name use.

UPDATE: WSJ November 17, 2005: "Revenue from text ads on these sites will total $400 million to $600 million world-wide this year and may reach $1 billion by 2007, according to Susquehanna Financial Group analysts Marianne Wolk and Roxane Previty, who track the online ad industry."

UPDATE: Google has an AdSense page targeting domain name parking businesses. I wonder if these Google folks will talk to us? They should know the size and shape of the "professional registrant" community better than anyone else and it appears they are "taking to them" directly from the looks of this page.

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Just read the newly crafted elevator pitch for Benetech in a letter from Jim Fruchterman, the CEO, Chairman and Founder.

His pitch:

Benetech creates technology that serves humanity by blending social conscience with Silicon Valley expertise. We build innovative solutions that have lasting impact on critical needs around the world.
Webcams and other digital communication could give ordinary people feedback on results acheived due to donation of their money and time.

This would give the power of oversight formerly reserved for wealthy philanthropists.

Does this hint toward disruptive digital technology underming the NGO world with individualized philanthropy that cuts out the middle men?

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Extracts from my article
on how the top six Paris hotels were caught fixing prices.

Fines ranged from 258,000 euros for the Hotel de Crillon to 55,000 euros for the Hotel Meurice. The Hôtel George V was fined 115,000; the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, E106,000; the Hôtel Ritz, E104,000; and Le Bristol, E81,000.

Email featured prominently in the government's case:

"I have the pleasure here of sending you our results and await yours," a sales coordinator at the George V, identified only as Madame X, said in an e-mail dated Feb. 2, 2001, sent to counterparts at the Hôtel Ritz, the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, the Hôtel Meurice, the Hôtel de Crillon and Le Bristol.

The e-mail included a chart showing levels of occupancy, average room prices and revenue information for the previous December.

They were not very happy to have us reporting on this story.

In the gold-festooned lobby of the Hôtel de Crillon, housed in a building constructed for Louis XV on the Place de la Concorde in the middle of Paris, the communications director declined to make any comment on the fines and insisted that a reporter attempting to speak with guests leave the premises immediately.

Some were not surprised by the price fixing.

A frequent guest at the Hôtel Meurice, an opulent hotel that is owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, said he was not surprised by the collusion. "In this level of hotel you can always negotiate the level of prices anyways," said Luc Janssen, a Belgian who stays at the hotel often.

In what other sectors is price fixing likely or highly suspected?

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Highlights from my story on Lunarstorm, the giant Swedish online community.

Claiming a youth audience three times larger than MTV in Sweden, two times larger than the entire readership of all of the Swedish evening newspapers combined and more members logging on daily than the total number of young Swedes watching almost every television show, Lunarstorm has become an accidental media titan here.

Lunarstorm's impact on Swedish youth is widely recognized. Church leaders used the community to console young people in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami that killed more than 500 Swedes. Meanwhile, concerns over the safety of minors prompted creation of a full-time security staff of six to scour the site for predatory behavior.

The site's question of the day - polling for anything from your favorite potato chips to political parties - garners an average of 150,000 respondents, more than any poll in Sweden apart from the actual national elections themselves.

Can closed garden communities survive - even if free - or are they Compuserves amid a more broadly emergent digital lifestyle?