OsamaBinRaided.com, Going Once, Going Twice …
The flash market of Bin Laden-related URLs isn't making many people rich.
Elsewhere in Slate, Jack Shafer makes the case for releasing the Bin Laden photo, William Saletan explains why the human-shield myth was a bad idea, Dave Weigel talks about how Osama's death proved everyone right, John Dickerson looks at Obama's poll numbers, Dahlia Lithwick says torture is still wrong, Chris Beam explains the mood in Pakistan, Heather Murphy compiles a slide show of the elite Navy SEALs, and Maura O'Connor looks at how the war still continues in Afghanistan. For the most up-to-date-coverage, visit The Slatest. Slate's complete coverage is rounded up here.
"You want to make a million dollars?" Ezra Azizo asked Maurice Harary at half past midnight Monday morning, an hour after President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. By 4:30 a.m., with the help of Azizo and an assistant in India, Harary had launched osamadeadtees.com. By 8 a.m., visitors had placed 500 orders. By the time I first called him on Tuesday, Harary said he'd sold 10,000 shirts. By Wednesday afternoon, he'd hired his fourth part-time employee.
Osamadeadtees.com is one of the roughly 2,000 Bin Laden-related domain names that have been registered since the terrorist leader's death, most within hours of when the news broke. Merchandisers, domain speculators, and advertisers are all rushing to secure the most straightforward, memorable addresses for their websites—or for addresses they think someone will pay more than the $10-or-so cost of securing it. To get these numbers, I downloaded the DailyDomains.org list of the approximately 200,000 domains newly registered on May 2 and May 3 and tallied the number of names that included "osama," "usama," "binladen," "bin-laden," "binladin," or "bin-ladin." (By comparison, DailyDomains lists fewer than 1,500 registrations containing "japan," "quake," or "tsunami" for March 10, 11, and 12.) They range from the concise (osamarip.com) to the bewilderingly long (osamabinladenwaskilledonmayfirsttwothousandeleven.com), and from the celebratory (adiososama.com) to the paranoid (osamaconspiracy.com).
When we spoke, the Brooklyn-based Harary hadn't slept in two days. "I'm just pumping, I'm not stopping. I'm just moving, moving, moving," he told me. Harary has worked the holidays at some retail stores in the past. This year, he says, "Santa Claus rolled up in May."
After paying for the shirt manufacturing, Google ads, and other traffic-drivers, Harary says he profits $1 for every shirt, which he's selling for $12. The best-selling design portrays Bin Laden's eyes X'ed out and a brushstroke across his mouth, all in red—a sort of morbid take on the familiar smiley face. Harary says most of his visitors come from major cities, with strong representation from Midwestern cities like Cleveland and Chicago.
The rush to grab Bin Laden-related domains "seems similar" in intensity to the rushes for domains connected to the Japanese tsunami and Britain's royal wedding, says Jeremiah Johnston, the chief operating officer for Sedo, the world's largest domain marketplace and domain-parking service. Though Johnston says Sedo has blocked parking for domains with "Bin Laden" in them since 2006, he's observed enough domain rushes to get a sense of the online ecosystem Bin Laden's death has created. (Sedo deemed Bin Laden domains "not commercially relevant" but has allowed "Osama"- and "Usama"-named domains because of those names' prevalence in Arabic-speaking communities.) "But my instinct is that it's going to get bigger. I think there's more potential, long-term, in a Bin Laden name than the Japanese tsunami," Johnston says. "There's going to be a cottage industry in Bin Laden-related merchandise."
There are a few ways to make money by registering a domain name. The first is to set up a new business as quickly as possible and attract customers who are searching for the hot topic, as Harary did. You can also buy a domain in hopes of reselling it to someone who wants it at a drastically inflated price. Last, you can direct your URL to a page stuffed with advertisements and profit off all the eyeballs that reach your site accidentally, known as "parking" a domain. A random sampling of the Bin Laden domains suggests that most fall into the third category. This isn't surprising: A study published last year in the Association for Computing Machinery's flagship journal found that about a quarter of all ".com" and ".net" websites are such ads portals. (The authors based this estimate on a sample of more than 200,000 domains.) Their lifeblood is what's known as "type-in traffic," when people looking for photographs of Bin Laden's body types "osamaphotos.com" into their browser location-bar instead of searching "osama photos" through a search engine.