Among the more than 6 million registered domain names on the Internet, some are stinkers. Wouldn’t it be great to take some of the discarded sites and turn them into functioning businesses?
The Domain Purge, held over the weekend of April 17, was designed to connect bad websites with good brainstorming: Participants tried to play Frankenstein for some dead domains and generate low-effort passive income in the process. The event was the first of its kind in the area, and has already produced one startup, Bad Art Auction, whose website went live on the Monday after the purge.
The concept works like this: When someone registers a domain name for a business idea that fails to develop, the web site goes unused. By connecting these websites with a team of creative business people and developers, those bad websites could turn into real businesses, at no cost other than free time on the weekend.
Matt Murrie, executive director and chief curiosity curator of What If…? 360, registered badartauction.com two years ago. He had been inspired by a boom in vintage t-shirt sales, and connected the concept to kitsch art, like some works on display at Sparky’s ice cream. “I started asking people if they would buy that, and I heard ‘yeah, I would love to have a painting of Hulk Hogan eating a banana,’” Murrie said.
Murrie’s idea never developed— until Domain Purge. Collin Bunch, from the Small Business and Technology Development Center, approached Murrie and other local entrepreneurs about capitalizing on the dearth of unused domain names.
“I started this as an excuse to get awesome people in a room together and focused on solving problems and building things together,” Bunch said. “It’s nice that it’s not really a competition.”
For Murrie, the idea seemed like a natural fit.
“There’s a disconnect between entrepreneurs and developers in a lot of communities,” he said. “There are a whole lot of developers who are students, looking for real world experience, in Columbia.”
The event ultimately brought 30 people from the business and development fields, including some students from MU, to REDI’s downtown incubator to sift through dozens of fossilizing web sites. Although the organizers — Bunch, Murrie, Matt Fischer, JC Holmes, Sean Lander and Mike Finney — originally planned for an organized weekend, those plans fell apart in the excitement.
“There was almost no structure at all,” Murrie said. “We just said screw it, we’ve got all the right people here, so let’s let them work. It was all very organic.”
Four domains were chosen as winning ideas, including Bad Art Auction. The website says it “helps get art out of trash cans and onto walls.” Artists can submit their own bad art to the site, where users will rate how bad each work is. The highest-rated, therefore worst, piece goes up for auction, where anyone can bid to purchase the painting.
Murrie said that the website is looking to expand operations, and has contacted Tigers on The Prowl, a charity event that auctions off locally-made art to benefit non-profits in the community, about a possible partnership.
Columbia may not be the only town resurrecting domains in the near future. Murrie said two more organizers have expressed interest in a Domain Purge event: one at the Show Me Innovation Center in Fulton, and another from a group in Normal, Illinois.
“Domain Purge volume two is definitely in the works,” Bunch said. “We also want to do themed events, with the same organic format but for things like Bitcoin.”
Some current works on display at Bad Art Auction: Sumo-esque wrestling, an interpretation of Medusa and a portrait of a human-sized bunny next to a teenage boy in a sweater-vest. The last work is titled, “Serial Killers Don’t Kill Their Friends.”