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Screenplay for an Era

Dana's heard a ton of horror stories about domain names, but none as downright hilarious as that of MicroStrategy. Maybe it's time to turn the Internet history of the 1990s into a screenplay.

Whenever I write about domain-name speculation, I get a flood of letters about the evils of big corporations.

They do it, my correspondents say. The big guys grab hundreds or thousands of names and abuse individuals for names the companies don’t need, and they’ve made ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) a tool of their abuse.

Don’t blame us, in other words. They started it.

I don’t buy that excuse from my nine-year-old. I tell him he’s better than that. But sometimes other kids do bully him, sometimes other kids cheat, and sometimes he is abused.

The same sort of thing happens here, too.

I’ve heard a ton of horror stories, but none as downright hilarious as that of MicroStrategy. The story was detailed Monday in The Washington Post.

Apparently, MicroStrategy’s entire Internet strategy was based on domain-name speculation. Most of the abuse I’d heard about before involved big companies registering hundreds of names with Network Solutions or using trademark challenges to prevent others from registering them.

MicroStrategy, on the other hand, seems to have been a heavy investor in the domain-name after-market. While The Washington Post doesn’t come out and say it, the company has also apparently been badly burned.

For instance, the story notes that GreatDomains.com has bragged about sales of some names now owned by MicroStrategy. I’d like the view of some speculators on this, but offhand I doubt that Wisdom.com is still worth $475,000 or that Speaker.com is still worth $120,000.

The fact is, as many correspondents have noted lately, the domain-name after-market has collapsed right along with the Internet stock bubble. The fall has been especially hard for generic names, words that have to be advertised heavily in order to have real value. Words like “wisdom” and “speaker,” for instance.

Every era has its cover boys and girls, people who were completely of their time and out of place in any other. This is true in business as it is everywhere else. These people represent their times not just because they illustrate the excesses of an era, but because they illustrate the mistakes of an era as well.

Charles Bluhdorn, for instance, represents the conglomerate era. (He was famously lampooned by Mel Brooks as chairman of “Engulf and Devour” in “Silent Movie.”) F. Ross Johnson of RJR Nabisco is the poster boy for the leveraged buyouts of the 1980s. (He was famously played by James Garner in the movie version of “Barbarians at the Gate.”)

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s time to put the 1990s, and the Internet stock bubble, firmly into the past. It’s time to turn history into a screenplay. And, in that vein, a treatment of MicroStrategy founder Michael Saylor is long overdue. But while I’m certain Mr. Saylor would want to be played by someone like, say, Benjamin Bratt, Hollywood doesn’t work that way.

You know how the game is played. We want Bratt; we’ll take, say, Billy Campbell; but this is who we get.

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