How We Got Sal (KhanAcademy.org) ConAcademy.com

But why ConAcademy.com?
According to the Whois info, ConAcademy.com was registered October 28, 2010. That’s only a few weeks after Google announced a $2M prize to Khan Academy as part of their Project 10^100 and about a month and half after Sal’s Fortune article.

Update: 5/25/12 (HatTip to domainnamewire.com) Oversee and NameKing are being sued by(pdf) jeweler Tocari for exactly what I describe in this post.

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Note: The views expressed here are my own and not those of Khan Academy for whom I freely volunteered my time.
Long story short in case you’re in a hurry. Discovering that ConAcademy.com was registered led me once again down the back alleys of behind-the-scenes domaining. This time the owner turned out to be Oversee.net, who own upwards of a million domains. I’m happy to say that eventually Oversee gave us the domain, no charge, and without legal wrangling apart from my emails. It’s a little more complicated than that, if you’re curious read on.

In our last episode, I’d helped (with help from Andrew Warner) Sal and KhanAcademy.org acquire their dot com. We traveled down a murky road that left a lot of basic questions unanswered. We discovered a web of companies inside of companies that led back to Demand Media (DMD) and wondered if the IPO had anything to do with how “only solid six figure offers” suddenly turned into an auction at Namejet where we won KhanAcademy.com for $2,988.

In the Ustream chat of Sal’s This Week In Startups interview with Jason Calacanis, someone asked if it was spelled ConAcademy and I was shocked to realize I’d never checked the obvious typo! ConAcademy.org was available, but the .com led me down another path I’m happy to share with you today.

conAcademy.com20101119.jpg

This is a classic example of ‘parked’ page. The owner of this domain is hoping someone who had typed conacademy.com into their browser bar, not finding what they were looking for, will then click on one of the links. When that happens, the owner of the domain will earn a rev share of whatever the advertiser is paying for a click. Seeing as this (online education) market is quite competitive, a click (there may be a secondary click required after this first one) can cost an advertiser anywhere from $3-$20 for some of the keywords listed on this page. Usually the clicks are monetized through Google or Bing. The business model has been very lucrative. While parking income is ‘down’, it’s probably the main reason we have large, publicly traded companies owning hundreds of thousands of domains. Not to mention individual domainers with 10s of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of domain names. I should mention now that I don’t have a problem with parking per se. If you were early enough and clever enough to register valuable generic keyword domains when that was still a risky business model, congratulations. (I will say though how grateful I am for my AdBlockPlus plugin.)

In fact ConAcademy.com was owned by Oversee.net.

Oversee.net owns one of the largest portfolios of domain names in the world–more than 1 million names.
Monetizing domain “real-estate”
For owners seeking ways to monetize undeveloped domain “real-estate”, Oversee is a pioneer in offering landing page optimization technology that renders highly relevant keywords, PPC ads, and layout configurations customized for each domain.

Oversee’s entire business model is built around technology that populates domain landing pages with ads to click on. They also own a registrar- Moniker.com,  a domain buy-sell auction platform- SnapNames.com [update: Oversee sold both Moniker and Snapnames to KeyDrive in early 2012], and run an annual high-ticket domain auction conference called DomainFest. They are a major player in the world of domaining.

But why ConAcademy.com?
According to the Whois info, ConAcademy.com was registered October 28, 2010. That’s only a few weeks after Google announced a $2M prize to Khan Academy as part of their Project 10^100 and about a month and half after Sal’s Fortune article.

The registrar for ConAcademy listed on the Whois, was NameKing.com. NameKing is a landing page for domain inquiries. The form led eventually to a quote from someone at Moniker who informed me that the ‘owner’ was willing to except an offer of $2500 for the domain name.

In our previous example, KhanAcademy.com, there was the possibility that a prior customer had registered KhanAcademy.com, that it had eventually dropped, that Enom noticed the traffic, and so rather than releasing it, they kept it for themselves. But in this case ConAcademy.com was registered after a lot of attention was being paid to Sal and KhanAcademy.org. So it makes me wonder if some of this “optimization technology” Oversee is talking about isn’t actually programmed to find available misspelled dot com domains of trending searches and register them! [This just in 4/18/11! Recent UDRP decision confirms Oversee using automated domain registration process! Story from DomainNameWire, WIPO decision. That Oversee is ALSO auto-registering typos of trending search terms wasn’t mentioned in the WIPO decision.]

So there’s the why of it, sort of.  It’s profitable to own these kind of typo domains where type-in traffic generates income through clicks on ads. This, in the case of ConAcademy.com, in my layman’s opinion, was a classic example of typosquatting – benefiting financially from misspellings of someone else’s brand. IF a case could be made that ConAcademy had ANY generic value, I would be forced to concede that Oversee had every right to own it and offer it for sale. But it’s ONLY value derives from Sal’s IP. So I determined I would fight for this one.

I worked on this for months. People were busy, out of town, the conference, the wrong person, that person lost my email, and forwarded it to her who passed it on to legal who wanted documentation of the Trademark etc. Sometimes I knew the person’s name and other times it was ‘Admin’. My point here is that there was obviously no point-person to handle this kind of situation. I was trying to be patient, but when weeks went by without a response I decided to see if I couldn’t acquire some leverage, in a way I knew these people would understand. I was surprised to see, considering they own over a million domains, that OverseeSucks.com was available. With that in my subject line, someone got back to my email within a day and things started to move in earnest.

Let me state here- I do not hate Oversee (and want to thank Howard for his help). I do not think that automated registration algorithms are necessarily evil. I AM saying that if you’re going to own a million names you better have a system in place for promptly giving back domains you have no business owning! It took me FIVE MONTHS to get ConAcademy. Meanwhile Sal spoke at TED and the press hit the fan.

I think my mission is mostly accomplished now. KhanAcademy.com, ConAcademy.org, and ConAcademy.com all point to KhanAcademy.org. We now pass the ‘radio test’.  It’s a pleasure to have been of service to such a great cause. Go Sal!

 

How We Got Sal (KhanAcademy.org) His Dot Com

I discovered that KhanAcademy.com was registered with Enom. It was parked (the schoolgirl photo with lots of ads) with a link to ‘buy this domain’. That link took me to a site called AcquireThisName.com where I was presented with a ‘make an offer’ form. I did. My offer led to a brief exchange part of which was…

Andrew Warner & Sal Khan
Andrew Warner & Sal Khan

I was already a big fan of Sal and KhanAcademy.org after I heard him interviewed by Jon Udell on IT Conversations. Here was a guy really making a difference. I could relate too, because if I’d had such a resource when I was a kid (Sal has hundreds of short-form math and science instructional videos online) I might have had a workaround for some horrible teachers that completely turned me off math.

A few months later Andrew Warner interviewed Sal for Mixergy (an awesome collection of interviews with entrepreneurs) and I heard this exchange as the interview came to a close…

Andrew: All right. Well, thanks guys. If you have any feedback, any suggestions, want to be part of this in any way, xxxxx@khanacademy.org, right? But you also have the dotcom.
Sal: No, I don’t. Somebody claimed the dotcom. I don’t own the dotcom.
Andrew: Who is the evil son of a bitch who has the dot com, who does not…
Sal: Well, I don’t know. I was almost able to get it, and someone got it. I don’t know. There are people more sophisticated at squatting domain names than I am.
Andrew: I guess so. Somebody get that domain name back for him. If anyone out there is listening, get that domain back. All right. Thank you…

I think it was the part about ‘almost getting it’ that really piqued my curiosity. So I began to look into it.
I discovered that KhanAcademy.com was registered with Enom. It was parked (the schoolgirl photo with lots of ads) with a link to ‘buy this domain’. That link took me to a site called AcquireThisName.com where I was presented with a ‘make an offer’ form. I did. My offer led to a brief exchange part of which was…

John,
To be honest, I’m not sure if the registrant is motivated to sell this domain. At this time, he is only asking for solid 6 figure offers for consideration. Please let me know if you have a offer you would like to be presented. Appreciate your interest.
Kind Regards,
Bxxxxx | AcquireThisName.com

Hmm, a ‘solid 6 figure’ offer for a domain whose value derives from the fact that Sal’s Khan Academy gets a lot of traffic? That made me mad. I started looking around the net. There were plenty of people mad at AcquireThisName.com. They had also been involved in numerous trademark suits, (see also). I found that Acquire This Name was incorporated in Nevada and that two of its board members, Michael Blend, and Matthew Polesetsky were also on the board of Demand Media. Demand Media owns Enom and a LOT of other domain related companies.

I checked to see if Sal had a trademark. If he had I would have suggested a WIPO action. It would have been a slam dunk. But Sal, busy teaching kids trigonometry for free, hadn’t gotten one yet.

A couple of months later I got an email from Acquire This Name informing me that KhanAcademy.com was about to go to auction at Namejet. Huh? Great! I signed in to Namejet and placed the $69 minimum bid. You HAVE to have placed the minimal bid before the auction starts in order to participate in the auction. I was able to contact Sal through Andrew Warner and Sal was happy to have me bid on his behalf. The morning the auction opens I log in and discover there are 30 people in the auction! The first two days the bidding stays well below our budget but on the morning of the last day I wake up to discover the price has shot up to $1600. I get on the phone to Sal and he gives me the go ahead to keep bidding. We’re down to 4 bidders now as the auction winds down to those last few nail-biting minutes but finally the clock runs out and we have it – for $5000.

So who was bidding against us? KhanAcademy.org is up to (by Compete’s numbers even) @250k visitors a month. Googling a couple of the bidder’s handles suggested Asian game site owners, probably looking to siphon off the .com type-ins. But who knows-  a shady domainer after a higher end-user sale to Sal down the road? A shill bidder from AcquireThisName?

Interestingly, about a week after the auction closed Namejet informs me that they had detected fraudulent bidding in the auction (bad credit card), and were refunding me $2012,  so in fact we got KhanAcademy.com for $2,988 (my highest bid before the fraudster bid it higher).

Sal has been so busy we haven’t had time to even transfer the name over yet. He’s just won a Google prize and recently Bill Gates declared Sal his favorite teacher.

So there’s the story. But I’m left with a lot of unanswered questions.
Who got Sal’s money? Was it Namejet? They call themselves a partner of eNom. So is Namejet also owned by Demand?
And why the change of heart? Why sell now if you know how much traffic KhanAcademy is getting?
Does it have something to do with the attic cleaning going on at Demand around their IPO?
And who is Mark Barker Incorporated? They show up on the Whois as registrar now (it was Enom). They’re also owned by Demand.

My hunch is that Enom retains some domains that drop even when they don’t  have any generic value. If you look through the domains available through AcquireThisName.com there’s all kinds of names that look like they once belonged to a real business. For example, I found existing exact match companies for domains like BankOfElgin.com KentuckyHomeBank.com BudapestBank.com MichiganTalentBank.com FraminghamCoopBank.com ClevelandFurnitureBank.com. For what other reason could Enom own these domains except to sell them (though Acquire This Name) to the companies that are building value into their brands? No wonder people hate the domain industry. That’s sleaze!

I’m glad we were able to help Sal get his .com. In fact all it took, in this case, was Andrew’s information, my attention, and Sal’s checkbook! It’s not the first time I’ve been able to help someone out, but it’s the first time I’ve written about it. Usually it’s as easy as buying the name and putting up a “This is a present.” page. I call it Good Will Domaining.

See Also:
Hey just discovered a TechDirt article about this post. Interesting comments as well.
Michael Berkens: Here We Go Again: Now Enom Has A Site To Sell Its Own Domain Inventory: Where Did These Domains Come From?