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Cybersquatting, Blackmail, and why I Started a Personal Website

This month, I invested nearly $1,000 USD into starting nengnow.com. But why invest hundreds, or even thousands of dollars into a website when social media is free? For me, the answer comes down to branding.

Working in Chiang Mai, Thailand

When I was an undergraduate at Harvard, my housemates and I came up with a ridiculous idea...it was an idea that sat at the crux of blackmail and personal reputation. So imagine a group of facetious college kids around the dinner table in Currier House having this conversation:


(We'll call my particular housemate here "Sam"...since I mean, that WAS his name after all...)


Sam: Hey, so Samir, Sebastian, and I were talking the other day, and we thought about a horrible way to make money...like ethically speaking.

Me: Yea? What is it...?

Sam: So imagine if you bought someone's domain—like "their name dot com." Like what if I bought Neng Thao dot com: W-W-W-dot-N-E-N-G-T-H-A-O-dot-com, and put a ton of penis pictures on there?! Wouldn't you want to pay me to take it down?

Me: No, because no one knows me, so I don't really care.

Sam: Yea, but I mean, dude, think about it—we go to HARVARD, do you even KNOW how many of our classmates right now are going to be famous millionaires in 10–20 years? Maybe billionaires? You don't think Bill Gates would pay a hundred grand to buy billgates.com if it was full of d*ck pics? Or what about how many politicians are run for office, who come out of Harvard by the way—they can't have a campaign WHILE "theirname.com" is full of incriminating pictures!

Me *slowly nodding head*: So who do you think is going to become famous among us?

Sam: I mean, that's the question...people like...like I think Alydaar has a good chance of becoming famous...he's doing really crazy biotech stuff.


Fun Fact: Currier House is where Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer first had their meeting to start Microsoft—specifically what is called the "Poker Room." It was also the House for other famous alumni such as Yo-Yo Ma, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Caroline Kennedy.


Harvard vs. Yale, "The Game", November 2012

So there Sam and I were, attempting to get our names and "great" ideas into the ranks of Microsoft, Cosmos, etc...by discussing which one of our classmates had the highest chance of becoming rich and famous in 20 years time. We weren't bent on becoming the next big investors the likes of Warren Buffet, Jim Cramer, nor any of the Kennedys...but rather an investor on...domain names! Domain names regularly start about just $10/year, so invest now, and hope in 20 years, that that person becomes blackmail–able; no one knew our classmates better than we did, and there is perhaps no better place in the world than Harvard where the person sitting next to us would become famous...so place our bets early on, and hope the "investment" pays off. That was the idea. How's that for wicked smaht?


Now, OF COURSE WE WERE JOKING. This was not a serious idea by any stretch of the imagination! BUT all of this does actually exist: it is known as domain squatting. So our idea was nothing new; it was just tailored to our specific circumstances—that's how we each have to go about making money in life anyway, right? Funny enough, that same year, while taking Harvard's famous computer science, CS50 course, our friends Sam (different Sam) and Adam had bought howsexy.com for $12/year, but let it expire...it was quickly reregistered and listed for over $11,000 soon thereafter...


In 2015, right after college, I bought nengthao.com and a couple years later in October 2017, I bought nengnow.com—a month before I quit my job to start traveling full-time. At that time, this was just part of my branding strategy though—I wasn't actually thinking much about what Sam and I had talked about back in 2014.


Meeting Juchirap, a youth hip-hop group who raps in the indigenous language of Zapoteco

In November 2018, while I was traveling through Juchitán de Zaragoza, Mexico, a year of mostly care-free travel led me to forget that my credit card was due to expire...which was linked to the automatic renewal of both nengthao.com AND nengnow.com...luckily, I wasn't carefree enough to completely forget about my emails, and thus was able to catch the 30 day redemption grace period given by domain providers. So I didn't lose ownership to either of my domain names and all was well *whew!* And boyyy was I glad about that grace period on the long bus ride back to Mexico City...I mean, I only had a FEW nightmares about how my branding would ruined, or how much I would be willing to pay a blackmailer to get my website back, or how no one would ever hire me for a job ever again if nengthao.com was all of a sudden filled with more than distasteful XYZ things! Which leads me to my next point...


I think your online presence will be more important than your resume in the next 10 years. Some studies have shown recruiters only look at your resume for an average of 7 seconds before it is tossed into the trash bin, or hopefully, the "move onto the next stage" pile...so clearly a resume can only do so much for you—that is, it's not THAT important anymore. But if you're lucky enough to move onto stage two of a job application, then what? In today's age, I think online presence is a big factor: When I Google your name, what comes up? Do you have a website? Are you "important enough" to be in the news, or accomplished something others care about? What do others in the community–because that is really what the internet is: just a mosh pit of everyone's thought—think about you? Today, for me, that started with actually making my website a place you could visit again—to read my thoughts, showcase my past projects, and sell my instruments. So thank you for being here and giving me a few minutes of your time...now go buy whatever–your–name–is–dot–com!!!

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