Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Vox Populi Sucks (Talk about a sucky business model…)

A week or so ago, Hiawatha Bray (over on the Boston Globe’s Beta Boston) had a column on a business called Vox Populi Registry, which has taken advantage of the opening up of all sorts of new Internet web extension, and is trying to make a business out of selling .sucks domain names.

The .sucks domain is for websites that want to launch snarky, savage attacks on a target — stupid politicians, corrupt corporations, or a certain East Coast city. Typing newyork.sucks into your Web browser takes you to the website of [John] Berard’s company, Vox Populi Registry, where you can buy a .sucks address aimed at the victim of your choice. (Source: BetaBoston)

Yep, and if you type boston.sucks in, guess what? You end up on Berard’s virtual doorstep as well.

It’s a clever, creepy scheme that’s got corporations and celebrities scrambling to buy up .sucks addresses to fend off online assaults on their reputations. Some critics have labeled it a form of extortion. Berard, however, sees himself as a public benefactor, promoting the free exchange of ideas.

“Companies have been confronted often with unfounded and unfair criticism, made worse by the advent of the Internet, with all its dark corners,” said Berard.

“There ought to be a place where criticism can be seen in the full light of day,” said Berard, “a clean, well-lighted place.”

All that sounds so very, very high-minded, doesn’t at? Kind of at odds with the ho-ho-ho newyork.sucks and boston.sucks come ons. I really don’t think the world needs yet another place where crude, numbnuts Bostonians and crude, numbnuts New Yorkers can catcall and response each other.

Reserving your sucks domain won’t come cheap. Us nobodies can get in for only $249 a year, which is a lot more than you’d pay for most domain names on GoDaddy. pinkslipmaureen.com doesn’t appear to be available, but pinkslipmaureen.guru is only $27.99, and pinkslipmaureen.rocks would set me back a mere $12.99. Curiously, nopinkslip.com would cost $2,495. Which, curiously, is just about what celebs and corporations are charged to contain theirname.sucks for a year.

Apparently when new domains are introduced, “copyright holders get first crack at buying up addresses, to protect their good names.” Bray mentions Taylor Swift and Microsoft as two that took advantage of this opportunity. When you type taylorswift.sucks you get address not found; when you type microsoft.sucks, you get the general Bing search page for the company. (I want to go on the record here as saying that I am a fan of Swift, and that I’m writing this on a Surface Pro 3, using Microsoft’s free and glorious app LiveWriter.)

It’s estimated that 6,000 .sucks have been purchased, which I guess isn’t a bad annuity stream ($1.5M) for doing nothing but be a nasty, terrible company. Or, in the words of ICANN, the nonprofit that wrangles domain names, Vox Populi Registry is a company with practices which are “predatory, exploitive, and coercive.” (And I never thought I’d find myself agreeing with anything that Congressman Darrell Issa says, but Bray quotes him as calling this scheme “legalized extortion.”)

In addition to the celebrity and company names:

Berard is looking to command a premium for 500 particularly repellent addresses: Christianity.sucks is available at $50.000.

Personally, I don’t see why any celebrity or company would pay $2.5K, let alone $50K to protect themselves from getting sucked. I guess $2.5K looks like chump change, so why not avoid this little bit of unpleasantness. But whether you’ve grabbed the domain or not, if someone wants to claim  that Taylor Swift, Microsoft, or Christianity sucks, there’s just nothing to stop them from ranting and raving online to their little hearts’ delight.

Anyway, I don’t see this as being much of a growth business, unless they start marketing to bullies and mean kids, in which case parents would start shelling out the $249 to keep their kids from being brutalized even more than they are already are by bullies and mean kids. After all, as Taylor Swift has told us, “Hates gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.”

Meanwhile, I did take a side trip over to Berard’s sucks registry. Let the hifalutin, BS positioning begin:

By building an easy-to-locate, “central town square” available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, dotSucks is designed to help consumers find their voices and allow companies to find the value in criticism. Each dotSucks domain has the potential to become an essential part of every organization’s customer relationship management program.

As a marketer, just own it!

Then there are the taglines:

“Customer led advocacy…Freedom of speech…Focal point for customer service…Foster debate, share opinions…”

Yep. Nothing says “foster debate” and “freedom of speech” like dot.sucks.

And then there’s the video, replete with Martin Luther King voice over, and a guest appearance by Ralph Nader, who says: 

The word ‘sucks’ is now a protest word. And it’s up to people to give it more meaning.

Wonder what Mr. Nader got in return? Perpetual rights to ralphnader.sucks? (Too bad that one wasn’t available in 2000, eh, Al Gore?)

Seriously, how does this guy look himself in the mirror? (Hmmmm. I don’t know whether I’m talking about Ralph Nader or John Berard here. You decide.)

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