Oh, the vanity domain. Why can’t we resist your ego-boosting charm? I mean, it’s right in the name – VANITY. And yet, most bloggers (including myself) just can’t resist the thought of staking out our very own section of cyberspace.
Certainly, there are times that vanity domains make a lot of sense. For example, if you’re the sadistic type who wants to self-host your own blog, a vanity domain is pretty much a requirement for Internet DNS to work correctly. If I recall, vanity domains get better search engine treatment than something from blogspot.com or wordpress.com. So if clicks are your thing, you might do well with a carefully crafted vanity domain.
I had a custom domain through wordpress for several years. It definitely was easier to spout out “visit braxwolf.com” instead of “braxwolf.wordpress.com” on a podcast, and it was also easier to type. But, eventually my blogging started to wane and I decided that it was no longer worth paying for a custom vanity domain. Yeah, I would lose my Google juice, but it wasn’t like my blog was going away. It would simply revert to the original wordpress.com domain. Those who followed the blog would still get updates for a post, and I could essentially host it for free, forever. I sent out a tweet letting people know where my blog could now be found, and forgot about it.
In the meantime, I did start to post again occasionally. In fact, I was all ready to participate in this year’s blaugust celebration when one of the other bloggers asked me “hey is braxwolf.com your website?”. I answered no, that domain had expired but I was still alive and well over at wordpress.com. He then informed me that braxwolf.com was still active, and posting ads for casinos. I didn’t worry about it too much, as I had known other bloggers who’s domains ended up as ad sites. I decided to check it out. What I saw infuriated me.
Whoever had registered my old domain wasn’t just throwing up a bunch of ads, they had copied my blog template, along with several of my most popular posts, word-for-word, image-for-image. Then, they had written two posts about online casinos to match the format of my actual posts, making it look like I was endorsing these sites. It was not only content theft, it was practically identity theft.
Above is the website that appeared at my old domain. Below is a snapshot of my actual blog. Is there any doubt where they got their inspiration?
I was pretty furious. I mean, not only were they using my persona to sell their skeevy gambling site, but they were indexing my content and getting views that I had worked for over the course of 2-3 years. I’m not a very creative person. I don’t paint, nor build things, nor create digital art or movies. My only semi-creative ability is writing. It is my art. And it was lifted in it’s entirety without my permission and for someone else’s profit. It felt crummy. I wouldn’t say that I felt violated, but it did certainly make me question the goodness of humanity.
Luckily, I am a man with a certain set of skills. And those skills include over twenty years experience as a network engineer and infrastructure security analyst. If you’re on the net, odds are I can find you. And when I find you, I will erase you.
OK, that was a bit dramatic but I was ticked, and as long as it didn’t cost me anything, I was going to keep pursuing them. They purchased my old site from a service that auctions off expired websites (I’m not convinced this operation is entirely above board, either), who I easily found. That service told me that they couldn’t help me but I would have to contact the customer directly. So, I want to the top-level domain that appeared in the ICANN whois database, Verisign. Verisign couldn’t help me either (I didn’t expect that they could) but provided me with an additional domain registrar that did not show in the ICANN entry. At this point, I was pretty convinced that I had found the right company. I researched their terms of service and found the section dealing with customers posting illegal content. Then, I filled out the online form for their support team, provided my evidence and pointed out the section of their ToS that I felt had been violated. Within an hour, the site no longer resolved in Internet DNS. Boom. Gone. The registrar never even bothered to respond to me. They just nuked ’em. Bye, Felicia.
The moral of the story? After this experience, I’d recommend not getting a custom vanity domain at all if you’re not self-hosted. If you do, then I’d recommend never letting that domain expire. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!