Domain matters (or do they?)

March 28, 2010 5 Comments

I’ve worked in domain names for around 9 years now. In October 2001 I moved to London and started working with them at that time, initially just monitoring them and reporting names which had been registered for various corporations who wanted to protect their brand. Eventually I moved into the actual management side of them registering names globally and finding out about the technical side of how they work.

However, as little as I knew 9 years ago, it was just before I moved to London when I first became aware of the fact they were more than just something that other people had and used on-line, and were something that I could actually own myself. Nowadays everybody has a domain name, but back then it wasn’t as common, though I was a very slow starter with it.

The first name I registered was on the 27th July 2001. I was working as a recruitment consultant and IT trainer and we were introducing a Dreamweaver course so I needed to learn how to use that particular piece of software, and this made me learn HTML. I decided to buy my own domain name back then and so did a search, probably not via Google at that time, to find a domain name provider. I used a company called Freeola at that time, who were rubbish it turned out, but very cheap – as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. It was around this time I had just upgraded my PC for the first time since 1997 and now had a modem so could connect online – it’s fair to say that I gave up reading books in the evening at this time and started my new life on the Internet.

I knew most places used .com domain names and that many UK places used .co.uk names; at that time I had no idea all of the other ccTLDs existed so never contemplated them for a second. I think I firstly attempted to secure my surname ‘murphy’ under .com and .co.uk, but found them both to be taken. I had a similar problem when I was setting up my internet connection in that my name was already being used as a username by someone else.

My solution was not very imaginative, I just added the letter Z to my surname.

murphyz was born.

So I did a search for murphyz.com and found that this one was also taken, annoyingly just 6 months prior to my wanting it. And so I settled for murphyz.co.uk, the current home of my forum which was set up about a year later and the domain used for my primary email.

The fact that murphyz wasn’t very common, but murphyz.com was taken would have lit a spark inside someone smarter than myself. They would have thought ‘If not so common names are already being taken on this here internet, I wonder what gems might still be available to me to register as an investment?’

Not me. I was as dumb as they come and it would take me a couple of more years before I realise a $10 registration could have netted me quite a nice profit; it still can if you pay attention to companies that are merging and don’t mind dabbling in that kind of thing. As a moral person and the fact I work with so many law firms and brand owners I stay out of this area, though have seen the potential.

So I settled for murphyz.co.uk and was happy with this; and have since added new domain names to my portfolio along the way.

I always kinda wanted that .com though.

Through my years of working in domain names I spent some time working on domain name acquisitions, where you approach a holder of a name and negotiate to purchase it. Though this process isn’t one I really enjoy compared to other aspects of my work I was quite good at it, and it did often allow me to perform my favourite part of investigating a domain name owner to find out who they are, how much they know about domain names and what kind of life they lead in order to make the right approach and give them the right price. I like to think of it as being a web detective rather than an on-line stalker. Oh yes, if you did not arrive at this page naturally then the chances are I have Googled you.

I approached the owner of murphyz.com many years ago, and did so straight up. I told him my circumstances and that I had an interest in murphyz.com and asked that he be in touch should he wish to sell it. He was pretty certain of himself when he stated he had plans for the name and did not want to sell at any time.

Now some people have plans for the names they own, and some people have ‘plans’. Pretty much anyone you approach to buy a name has ‘plans’ for it, as these ‘plans’ lead to pleas for additional cash when they do sell the name and have to go through the inconvenience of changing these ‘plans’.

I believed this guy though, as not only was the site serving content on older generations of people with the name Murphy, he had also written a book on the subject.

I have many plans for (most of) my names but have never written a book. It takes me all of my time to write a blog post.

I was surprised then when I found out last a few weeks ago that murphyz.com was about to be deleted.

My first thought, of course, was to the best way to secure the name. I knew the registrar it was with so knew which snapback service they would push the name to which meant I was in the best place to get myself in with a chance to either register it once it dropped or at least be in an auction to purchase it so that was step number one.

My second thought was towards the former registrant of the name. Why had he allowed it to drop? Was it recession based, did his plans just change or was he injured or dead? I hope that he is alive and well, and just decided that he had no plans for the name anymore, or that he simply ignored any renewal reminders or forget to get it renewed. I noted another of the names he had registered also lapsed around the same time, this one with a different provider.

Craig, if you ever read this, do let me know.

So, murphyz.com was suddenly about to be deleted and I placed an interest in the name with snapnames.com who was the preferred company that would get this name. On the evening of Thursday 25th March the name dropped and, as expected, was registered by snapnames.

Unfortunately, another person had stated their interest in the name. A ‘maria_jose’ had also placed an order with snapnames, and it was now up to an auction to sort us out.

I knew nothing of maria_jose, and so didn’t know their betting patterns. I was used to facing a guy called Halvarez whenever a name went to auction, but when it was found out last year that Halvarez was an employee of snapnames pushing the price of domain names up most snapnames purchases since have been uncontested – but at least with Halvarez I knew how much I would be expected to contest a 7 letter .com name for. With maria_jose I knew nothing! There were a few things online that showed the person has been around for a good few years but nothing to tie them down to purchases. What I did see looked promising as they appeared to be someone who didn’t really bid more than the base price. As in poker, I enjoy playing against people who don’t want to raise me – a situation like that here would be perfect.

So I was of course left with a decision of how much to bid? Did I really want to spend $1,000 on a name I have lived without and have no real attachment to? Did I want to bid $100 and miss out to someone who was going to bid $110.

I asked myself the questions I ask clients who are wondering how much they should bid for their names. How much can you afford to pay for it? How would you feel if someone else had the name and you couldn’t use it? How much does it mean to include this name in your portfolio? Can you use this name to save costs on the registrations of others name in your portfolio?

I had no answers to any of these questions. I do, however, have a history of bidding on things and ‘winning’ them when winning is a very loose term due to the fact I’ve paid more than I should have just because I like to win. I didn’t want to enter a bidding war here, knowing that I have a very competitive streak and a credit card that sits unused and, therefore, has max credit available. That would just get me into trouble.

The last domain name I was in an auction with ended up with me paying around £300 to win it, so that seemed reasonable enough here for one that is less brandable. I slapped on a max bid of $530 and waited for the auction to kick in – 2days 19hours and 57minutes to go before I would find out if it was mine.

‘maria_jose’ stayed silent for those two days, right up until 5 minutes before the auction was due to end and at the time when I thought I may be lucky and get it for $60.

She came in with a bid of $65, I automatically countered with $70 – automatic as the bid, much like eBay, goes up as long as you have a max amount listed.

Then she came in with a bid of $80, I automatically countered with $85.

Her third bid came in at $110, my automatic counter was $120.

With less than a minute to go she came in at $130, my counter was $140.

Auction extended back to 5 minutes. Sigh. I guess it prevents snipers…right?

No action though, during the 5 minutes, and the auction ended at my winning it for $140.

Hurrah.

Finally, I have the .com of the name I’ve been using for nearly a decade.

I have no idea what I’m going to do with it!

Thames Tunnel Tour

March 14, 2010 4 Comments

Last week I saw the following come into my twitter feed from @Spoonfed: “Thames Tunnel Reopens for the First Time in 145 Years (link)”

I can’t say that I have an avid interest in really old things with dark, damp, musty holes but this did sound like the kind of thing I may want to do on a Saturday. Brunel is a legend, and the chance to see the first underwater tunnel in the world seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so I of course wanted to go ahead and book a ticket.

Easier said than done.

The post mentions that the tour is available via the Transport Museum and left me a phone number, so the logical thing would be to call it, which I did on Saturday 6th March. Nobody picked up, and I didn’t want to leave a message and assumed there would be a way to pre-book tickets online. There was, but not a simple way.

I eventually found this ticket booking page:, though I’m actually not too sure how I even did that, it seemed to be a random combination of using Google and clicking various links on their site to try and book tickets for another event before finally seeing the Tunnel Tour coming up. Once found I had to decide from 3 different events that I wanted to go to. One was a Tunnel Tour, one was a Fancy Fayre, and one was a Brunel Tour. All were the same price and all had the same description (a safety notice which was of no real use in determining the one I wanted).

Playing it safe I opted for the Tunnel Tour, as though the other two may have been the same, or may have included a few more things for the same price, I was pretty happy to miss out on the others if it guaranteed I would be able to walk the tunnel. I think one may have even been to go down the Brunel shaft, equally as confusing as that’s something completely different.

So, I found the ticket page, established the ticket I wanted, specified the date and time I required – simple from here, right?

Wrong.

The ticket ordering page would not allow me to select the number of tickets I wanted and submit it. Was it sold out? Perhaps, but there was no real indication of this.

Eventually I resorted to that age old trick I do whenever I visit the site produced by a government in a country that has no real technological infrastructure in place, I switch to Internet Explorer.

Voila! Suddenly I could order the tickets without issue. It’s amazing that whoever has designed the page has not made it browser compatible. Chrome I can kind of understand, but surely Firefox comparability is a must nowadays?

I entered my credit card details, crossed my fingers and hit submit.

A few minutes later I received two emails. One with my ticket (or at least, a bar code that would later not be scanned), and a second email confirming my place on the tour (or so I hoped) and designating the time of my tour.

One week later I was set to go. It was about 1pm in the afternoon when I thought I should go ahead and decide how on earth I get to the Brunel museum. Looking at the TFL website I was dismayed to see that the Jubilee line was out of action, so my initial plan of jumping on at Waterloo and getting off at Canada Water was thrown out of the window. I instead contemplated a boat. It’s a rare treat when I use a boat service, but to get there I would have had to either take two boats or just one boat and a 30 minute walk at the other end. That would be okay, but not ideal.

So, taxi or bus? I looked into the bus route and was surprised to see that the 188 goes from my home in Russell Square all the way to Canada Water and only take 30 minutes or so. Result! So I hopped onto the 188 at 3:30 and arrived at the Brunel Museum at 4:10 – hurrah.
Thames Tunnel - Brunel Plaque
There were quite a few people around, and a queue forming to go down a shaft. I popped into the museum to ask where I should go to queue for the tunnel tour and a stressed looking girl stood behind a desk told me to walk down the street until I hit Rotherhithe station and queue there. During the 3 minutes I was in the museum I heard a couple of people complaining about how disorganised the staff are, one particular American raising his voice a little too much and completing about how inept the organisers were – no wonder the poor girl looked flustered if she had had two days of tourists attempting to buy tickets for a sold out event and getting angry that they had pre-booked. And so I trundled off to Rotherhithe station to join the queue, with a fellow from Ipswitch hopefully asking every passer by if they had a spare ticket (I’m pleased to say he was able to get in using a spare ticket from a party that arrived a few minutes later). Again it all had a disorganised feeling, but what did people expect? There people work for London Transport; it’s not their every day job to deal with several tour groups. It’s a shame a lot of people there just liked to complain really.
Thames Tunnel - Rotherhithe Station

Thames Tunnel - Tour Sold Out

At 4:30 I was allowed into the station where my name was ticked off a list and I was told to check my bag in. I removed my additional lens, opting to carry that with me rather than leave it in my bag, and checked it in, and then picked up a sexy pair of white latex gloves which I was told to wear at all times, though wasn’t really told why. I guess it was to prevent the possibility of Wiles disease, and then amused myself for a few minutes attempting to think of a ‘pissed as a rat’ joke that would incorporate the disease and my trip to the tunnel. I failed.

A few minutes later and we were good to go, a quick safety notice later and we were led down to the track. As a group we stood at the entrance to the right hand tunnel and were told a few facts about when it was built, how close above our heads the Thames actually was, and a few other things that I have now forgotten. and then we were off down the track on our way to Wapping. It was a leisurely pace, avoiding all of the trip hazards in the way and allowing time to take photographs. With hindsight I should have taken my filter off as it seemed to catch and reflect light which I didn’t want, but I took far fewer pictures than I thought I would, instead my imagination kicked in as I walked down the tunnel, imagining what it would have been like a century and a half ago when it was open to the public, and each archway was filled with a stall of some sort selling crappy touristy items, and where the darker alcoves hid a pick-pocket or a lady of the night. I also wondered what a horse would have thought about being down there, and how badly the whole place would smell.

Thames Tunnel - Old Brickwork

Thames Tunnel

Thames Tunnel

Thames Tunnel

Thames Tunnel

Thames Tunnel

Thames Tunnel

Thames Tunnel - Seeping

Thames Tunnel

Thames Tunnel

Thames Tunnel

Thames Tunnel

Before long we were at Wapping, I guess it took around 15 minutes to walk from one to the other.

At Wapping we moved over to the left hand tunnel and had time for questions, not that there were many before we started our journey back. I took the opportunity here to switch the camera into record mode and took a 5 minute video of walking down the tunnel. I had no additional light so it’s all rather gloomy and rather echoed, and my attempt to switch to portrait view later on in the video did not have the desired effect (turning the film sideways rather than changing the view – I’ve been using an iPhone too long and expected that change without really thinking about it). It’s just amazing to me to think of the tunnel as it was used in the past, with so many visitors and having 50,000 people making their way through it.

Thames Tunnel – Wapping to Rotherhithe (video)

Ten minutes later and we were back in Rotherhithe and ready to end the tour. I thought away my rat piss stained gloves, and bought a copy of the Thames Tunel book they had on offer before retreating to The Mayflower for a quick pint, and a rather enjoyable bus back home.

All in all the tunnel itself was nothing special. I mean it is a special tunnel. It is exceptional in it’s own way and what it stands for, and without someone, as it was Brunel, doing this one tunnel we would not have the Eurostar today. I just mean that the tunnel itself is similar to other train tunnels. It’s thinking about what it used to be that made it special for me; imagining a million people visiting it at a time when only two million people lived in London. Imagining the banquets that took place, the stalls that were there and the whole Dickensian imagery I get with thinking of old London and a world of pick-pockets, horses and the Victorian era.


Also enjoying the tunnel tour this weekend:
Adam Wright: Thames Tunnel
Ian Visits: Walking though Brunel’s Tunnel under the Thames
diamond geezer: Thames Tunnel Tour and Fancy Fair
853: Inside the Thames Tunnel