Choosing a Domain Name: Getting to Know Cyber Squatters (Starbucks Scene 1)

    by Alexander Zolotarev
    January 19, 2009

    It’s not the case when you can remain unnamed. At this stage – when working out the site structure and drawing graphic schemes, you can’t stop thinking about the domain name. Soon after the Knight Foundation announced that my proposal made it and I was selected one of the winners of the ’08 Knight News Challenge, I registered several domain names which could alternatively be the site address.

    In case with Sochi, most of the domain names bearing a word ‘sochi’ or a combination of words ‘Olympic’ and ‘sochi’ were purchased in a wholesale format by cyber squatters several hours after Sochi was named host of 2014 Winter Olympics. The announcement took place in Guatemala City on July 4, 2007, in other words 18 months ago. Since then hundreds of good domain names were registered, which makes it a challenge to get a free one in the .ru web-hemisphere.

    I am brainstorming with my friends in the new Starbucks which just opened in the center of Moscow (it’s the 7th one, I guess). I asked them to get together for a couple of hours to fountain with ideas. One of them is my friend Liza who went to the Moscow State University Faculty of Journalism with me. She was taking photo classes influenced by her father, a successful photographer. She has recently started a photo-slide web engine to bring great photo projects into the open. And she is here drinking vanilla latte.


    Before meeting, at home, I put together a list of 30 domain names and brought them to the table, so that my colleagues can discuss them and give their opinions.

    The list of potential names is already pretty long, competing with the number of pastry items in the Starbucks menu which doesn’t yet boast magic pecan bars – my faves – but they are expected late January.

    For the best domain name we have some unspoken criteria:


    It –

    – should contain the word ‘sochi’, so that it pops up in the searches
    – should convey the idea of the project
    – should be short and memorable

    According to the textbooks on web business, it should also ‘help to build the brand, add credibility to our business and showcase that we are forward-thinking’.

    In other words, a challenge is to find the domain name which will help better market the project for the target audience and create a successful web presence instead of getting lost in cyberspace.

    Giving facts, a guy in the domain-registering shop tells me that most of the 4-letter names in the .ru zone are already bought. All 3-letter names are gone long ago. So 5 letters is an option, and it’s elevating senses and pretty inspiring as there are 5 letters in the word ‘Sochi’. No reason to retreat. I also know that there are some worthy nicks in the .su zone still left, but .su stands for Soviet Union, and this extension is not often seen nowadays.

    At this stage of brainstorming any name is fine. We will select the one later. We are passionately debating on the proper names and immediately checking their availability at the www.reg.ru. Three times out of four the name is occupied and I am being forwarded to a cyber squatter who might originate not only from Russia, but virtually from any country. We contact those who own most attractive domain names and ask what prices they would give us.

    Generally, the price range is pretty wide: from Euro 2 500 to $ 27 000. Anyone to praise cyber squatters?

    Well, I can hardly say who those guys are. It’s not always possible to detect them in the ‘Who Is’ chapters cause a lot of them hide their origins.

    I call the Sochi area code number. Peter S. is an amateur cyber squatter whose major occupation is producing pieces of jewelry, but in his spare time he sells domain names. What a character!

    I call Marina P. abroad. She introduces herself as ‘a cyber squatter who lives between Sochi and London’ and adds she would consider making a small discount for some of her domain names.

    Another Sochi telephone number. The man on the other end of the line, Andrey, turns out to be a photographer based in Sochi who takes dynamic panoramic photos of the city. Andrey claims that he would not sell his domain name as he bought it for himself and is planning to build a website about his photo studio, illustrated with the picture samples. Anyway it’s good to know Andrey, because in the future we can hire him to provide us with some Sochi panoramas to use in creating the site design.

    Honestly, I am pretty sure we won’t have to buy a domain name from cyber squatters, but would rather generate an original one. However, calling those numbers and talking to those people who own sochi-related domain names is a good way of getting to know more folks who might co-work with me in the future, like Andrey.

    Between choosing the domain names and drinking latte, we peer into recently published Taschen almanacs on web design, talk about the introduction of the Pulitzer prize for web-only media journalists, and Ivan shows one of his latest iPhone-taken pictures: the Christmas Tree with the Sochi 2014 logo installed by the Red Square.

    Tagged: domain name olympics sochi starbucks
    • This is a wonderful entry, Alex. I love the image of you and your friends working out the answers in a Starbucks in Moscow. I myself get a lot of work done in a Starbucks in suburban Boston.

    • I’ve taken to calling this practice domain hoarding because squatting has a long and honorable history of putting abandoned property into use, whereas these people and companies do the opposite: taking potentially useful things out of reach.

    • Actually as negative as the connotations are for domain hoarders (or whatever one wishes to refer to them) they do provide some useful functions.
      There are millions of useless domains registered each year. This has created a whole industry for registrars that would have otherwise been small to none-existent.
      The few good domain names that are taken off the market as investment property are then reserved for those who are really able to use the name to its full potential and therefore able to pay a premium for it.

      If it wasn’t for the hoarders many of the larger companies would have had to settle for less desirable names because some hobbyist discovered the domain name first and made it successful enough to not want to sell the domain and take the web out of commission. In other words it is like the survival of the fittest. The hoarders cause the more quality domain names to be developped by the more capable organizations.

    • Wow, we were spammed by a domain hoarder justifying its own existence.

      “We rob from everyone to sell to the rich”? Whatever bedtime stories help you sleep at night.

    • Alexander Zolotarev

      Benjamin, that’s a great way to market yourself, if you are a domain hoarder, isn’t it? :)

      Lisa, Benjamin and Domain Offerings, thank you very much for your comments!

      Yes, it’s good to work in Starbucks, and I believe I will proceed with a Starbucks Scene 2 post in the near future…

      I agree, that ‘Hoarding’ might more precisely reflect the idea of what those folks are doing.
      In Russian they are also sometimes called by programmers domain/cyber pirates, and cyber squatters. These definitions landed here for a couple of years ago.

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