Cybersquatting among the ruins

Before the second tower collapsed, the domain name land grab was already underway: From to


Cybersquatting among the ruins

On Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, while the twin towers of the World Trade Center crumbled and hijacked jetliners hurtled into the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania, Americans were stricken by shock, anger, grief and grim fascination. Glued to televisions, radios and Internet news sites, many of us were uncertain of what was happening or how we should react. But scores of people around the world reacted decisively to the terrorist attacks, in a peculiar and eerily detached way: They registered Internet domain names commemorating the disaster.

Within moments after the first hijacked plane careered into the World Trade Center’s south tower at 8:45 a.m., even as New York firefighters rushed up the stairwells, quick-thinking Net-savvy citizens pointed their browsers to the Web sites of Internet domain name registrars. Jim Burke, of Southington, Conn., was one of the first to react in this way. While learning new Unix commands online, he heard a report that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Without knowing whether the report was true, and almost as a reflex action, he decided to register an appropriate domain name.

“I knew that if I was going to do anything, I was going to have to act fast,” Burke says. He wasn’t quite fast enough to register his first choice,, which had already been taken moments earlier. Instead, he registered the domain name The second hijacked plane had not yet struck the south tower.

Over the course of the morning, as new developments were reported, registrants snapped up hundreds of new names, all variations on the same grim themes. The names and went quickly, followed by wordier versions like and After United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower at 9:03 a.m., plural replaced singular and and (nabbed by a registrant in Switzerland) were claimed. When the Pentagon was hit at 9:43 a.m., domain registrars faced a rush on names like, and And then, back in New York, the towers began to fall.

A Canadian registered, presumably in the 23 minutes between the collapse of the south and north towers of the World Trade Center. Once both towers fell, a flurry of domain name registration burst across the Internet, mimicking, in its own way, the blizzard of dust and smoke surging through lower Manhattan. Registrants pounced on the names,,, (registered in Korea), and dozens of variants specifically describing the horrific events of the day, along with more broadly descriptive names like (registered in Hungary),, and

Once the airlines confirmed the flight numbers of the hijacked planes in the late morning, a slew of names immortalizing the doomed flights came into being.

Preexisting actual sites such as, the home page of the Terrorism Research Center, and took on new relevance, while, registered to the Taleban Mission to the United Nations, was quickly hacked.

Later in the day, the Bush administration named Osama bin Laden as a prime suspect in the attacks. Suddenly, this terrorist leader displaced Pamela Anderson as a popular Internet search term, and a new cluster of domain name registrants tried to seize the remaining unregistered cognates of the name. (Unlike the actual person, the now highly desirable was nabbed in 2000, as was the alternate spelling, registered to a possibly fictitious Usama bin Cocksucker in Helltown, Penn.) But the final, largest wave of disaster-related domain registrations began when registrants ceased to describe and began to opine.

You Might Also Like

Although there are many ways to describe the events of Sept. 11 in domain name shorthand, there are exponentially more ways to express opinions about what should be done in response to those events. Hundreds of topically expressive domain names were registered that Tuesday, ranging from the steely resolve of to the more directly bloodthirsty to the culturally sensitive and (The latter name is registered to a well-known porn site, which also registered dozens of names in the same vein such as [sic], and

What can one make of this scramble for domain name turf following one of the greatest disasters in United States history? One conclusion is that the Web has allowed us to react to disaster in a way that is brand new and highly individualized (although still fundamentally public). No analog to domain name registration was available to those who experienced calamities in the past. Today, anyone can go online and instantly claim as his or her own a piece of Internet real estate accessible, at least in theory, to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. And hundreds if not thousands of people took this route in response to the attacks — for reasons good, bad and ugly.

Another clear lesson is that if terrorists intend to cripple the spirit of American capitalism, they’ll have to try harder. Many of the domain names registered on Sept. 11, especially those registered early in the day, are now implicitly or explicitly for sale. It is fair to say that most of us did not have personal profit on our minds in the minutes and hours after the attack began, but at least some of the domain name registrants did, and they undeniably demonstrated initiative and entrepreneurial drive. Had New York been the target of nuclear or biological terrorism, one can be reasonably confident that or would have been registered within minutes. (Amazingly, no one has yet registered those names on speculation.)

Many of the domain names registered that Tuesday were at least nominally intended as memorial sites, and allowed their registrants to grieve, provide information or encourage contributions online. The reason for registering certain other names is less clear, probably even to their registrants. It is likely that some people registered names to be able to participate in the event that was garnering so much attention, to retain a souvenir — a virtual snow globe or collectible plate — commemorating the disaster, or perhaps simply to provide reassurance that some certainty and normalcy remained in the world. Even during a time of unprecedented domestic turmoil, we can remain, in a weirdly literal, Internet-age sense, masters of our own domains.

And finally, domain name registration may represent a new gauge of public opinion in a fractious democracy. The variety and sheer number of domain names that sprang into being on Sept. 11 reflect, however imperfectly, the depth of feeling and range of opinion in this country about the events of that day. It is telling that, as of this writing, and remain available for registration.

Bryan Geon is a writer.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>