Thursday, April 19, 2007

In Wake of Tragedy, Speculators Snatch Up Profitable Web Names

People respond to tragedy in different ways. Some pray. Some watch the news. Some try to get rich.

Just hours after a student at Virginia Tech went on a killing spree that claimed 33 lives Monday, speculators began snatching up domain names related to the shooting.

Dozens of people registered sites like, and through companies like and Enom, Inc. Several of the names went up for sale on eBay later that day.

The blood wasn't even dry in Norris Hall. In that building, home to the engineering department, Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old South Korean majoring in English and living on the Blacksburg campus, fired round after round from his Glock 9 mm and Walther .22-caliber handguns into helpless students and teachers, before turning his pistols on himself and ending the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history.

For most people around the country, this was a shocking and grievous moment. For the new owner of, it was an opportunity. The domain was registered through Moniker Online Services on Monday, and soon afterwards was up for auction on eBay. The registrant posted an image of an assault rifle with the listing and described as the "perfect domain name for any memorandum or other site dedicated to the recent mass killings at Virginia Tech."

The bidding opened at one cent. The "Buy It Now" price was set at $500. In an eBay auction, "Buy It Now" allows shoppers to skip the bidding altogether by paying a lump sum up front. The registrant did not respond to an interview request.

That domain was offered at a cheap price. Another, more ambitious, would-be profiteer asked for $100,000 for five sites he'd registered through GoDaddy, including and He covered his ad in American flags and described his sites as "Great Domain Names for a Memorial Fund Development….Our Hearts go out to all the victims and families of Virginia Tech Massacre!"

Matt Owens opened bidding for at $1,000. He set his Buy It Now price at $10,000. On the listing, Owens wrote that is a "great domain name for development!" He posted a photo of an angel in a short white dress hovering next to a cross.

When reached by phone on Tuesday, Owens was surprised that his choice of domain name had provoked a backlash. "I've been getting hate mail," he said. "I didn't think it through. I was just thinking about the money first."

Owens, who has kids in college, said he never intended to cause any harm or make light of the shootings. "I wasn't trying to do anything bad. I figured someone might buy the name and use it or not use it." Owens pointed out that the word "rampage" has been in wide circulation by the media. He said companies should consider taking sensitive names off the market after a tragedy and that eBay shouldn't allow auctions for certain items.

Ebay removed most of the potentially offensive listings from its website Tuesday, but could not be reached for comment.

Not every domain snatched up in the wake of Monday's tragedy wound up on eBay, and it's likely some of the registrants plan online memorials, or acted quickly to keep the domains from falling into the hands of profiteers.

In an interview with Wired News on Monday, GoDaddy's vice president of public relations, Elizabeth Driscoll, said company policy is to allow any name to be registered at any time. GoDaddy intervenes if it learns that a site is being used for "morally objectionable or illegal purposes." Normally, GoDaddy is alerted to bad behavior by registrants when a complaint is filed through its abuse department.

"It's a fact of life that when a major event happens, whether it's positive or negative, people flock to register domain names. ...We don't have the ability to monitor every site."



Monday, April 16, 2007

Now you can blog in Hindi

Our friends Anupama and Nitin have posted on the Google blog about the Hindi transliteration feature that they added to Blogger:
Enabling the transliteration option allows you to type out Hindi words using phonetically equivalent English script, and see the words getting transformed into the corresponding Devanagari script. The plus is that you now don't need to learn complicated mappings from English alphabet combinations to Hindi letters. That means you really don't need to worry about WeiRD UpPerCasEing to get the right Hindi spellings.
To get started, enable Hindi transliteration here (or by going to Settings > Basic). We have a help article explaining how it works, and a thread on the Blogger Help Group to talk about it.

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Introducing Gmail Paper

Beginning of the month we all saw this on the gmail front page. And I started wondering what business model is Google following for this one ?

Introducing Gmail Paper

Everyone loves Gmail. But not everyone loves email, or the digital era. What ever happened to stamps, filing cabinets, and the mailman? Well, you asked for it, and it’s here. We’re bringing it back.

A New Button
Now in Gmail, you can request a physical copy of any message with the click of a button, and we'll send it to you in the mail.

Simplicity Squared
Google will print all messages instantly and prepare them for delivery. Allow 2-4 business days for a parcel to arrive via post.

Total Control
A stack of Gmail Paper arrives in a box at your doorstep, and it’s yours to keep forever. You can read it, sort it, search it, touch it. Or even move it to the trash—the real trash. (Recycling is encouraged.)

Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe
Google takes privacy very seriously. But once your email is physically in your hands, it's as secure as you want to make it.

Learn more about Gmail Paper

And after few days I realized, Gmail has fooled me. One of the best April Fool pranks I came across.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Unknown Orb-Weaver of India

Orb-weaver (Araneus bilunifer), Family Araneidae
Dudwa National Park, Northern India

Explanation: Here is an immature orb-weaver spider. Orb-weavers are cosmopolitan, especially this genus Araneus, and many species of this genus are widespread and well studied.

However ... although first described in 1900, this particular species -- known only by its scientific name, Araneus bilunifer -- appears to be largely unstudied, is little-known, and apparently seldom photographed. It is endemic to India (found nowhere else) and one of 22 species of genus Araneus in India.

This young specimen was no larger than the nail on my little finger. It was clinging to the outside wall of my rustic bungalow in a national park in northern India. In a study of spiders in rice paddies of Kerala, India, only a single specimen of this species was found.

Sebastian, P.A., M.J. Mathew, S.P. Beevi, J. Joseph, and C.R. Biju. 2005. The spider fauna of the irrigated rice ecosystem in central Kerala, India across different elevational ranges. The Journal of Arachnology 33:247-255.

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