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September 27-October 3, 2006

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Technology News - Annalee Newitz

Technology News

Hip Buzz Phrases

By Annalee Newitz


USUALLY, I don't let the PR emails get to me. My normal procedure is to review and delete these missives from alternate marketplace universes where people care about incremental changes to the GUI in a piece of useless software. But last week, when the bizarrely clueless announcement from domain-name megaregistrar Dotster arrived in my inbox, I just couldn't stand aside and let it pass.

Maybe I was feeling particularly grumpy because the ongoing Hewlett-Packard scandal is constantly reminding me that all my nightmares about the corporate surveillance of media types are, in fact, true. Whatever the reason, I just plain got pissed off by Dotster's craven bid to appeal to "youth" with its new "PimpedEmail" product for MySpace users.

For $7.95 per month, Dotster will sell you access to a "pimped" domain name via your MySpace account. Apparently, according to the press release, these domains "tend to favor hip buzz phrases ... for example, if a visitor types 'Stephanie' into the DDS search box and clicks 'Name Search,' the results might include stephanieisthebomb.com, stephanyshizzle.com or worldofstephanie.com."

OK, it's true that what leaps out immediately here is the slap-your-head stupidity of these "hip buzz phrases"—my personal favorite is worldofstephanie, which has to be one of the buzzingest, hippest phrases I've ever encountered. But what pushed me over the line from merely bemused to actually offended is Dotster's crass attempt to suck money out of one of the most cash-strapped communities on MySpace: unknown musicians trying to get people interested in their music.

Most of the suggestions for how to use PimpedEmail involve using it to promote unknown bands. "A new group calling itself Nikki Blast could use band search to register nikkiblastrocks.com," suggests Dotster. Then, "they can set up as many email addresses as they like using that domain extension. For example, the drummer could be madbeatz@nikkiblastrocks.com, and the band could award loyal fans with their own addresses such as timmy@nikkiblastrocks.com." Hmmm, could "madbeatz" be another one of those hip buzz phrases? What about "rocks"? I think it might be!

Of course, these suggestions won't necessarily control youth behavior, partly because they're just lame. And I'll admit that MySpace teaming up with Dotster isn't nearly as problematic as MySpace collaborating with state governments to police what kids are doing on one of the world's largest social networks. But PimpedMail is more insidious than you might think. It pushes conformity under the guise of cool; it turns the ideal of freely sharing band information into something that requires payment by the month.

No, it's not surprising that the NewsCorp-owned MySpace is figuring out ways to accessorize its free service with little nuggets at teen prices. But I still reserve the right to be grossed out when it happens. ("Grossed out," by the way, is the sort of "hip buzz phrase" that I'm sure you can get in your "unique" PimpedEmail package.)

More depressing still is the way PimpedEmail pulls the covers over the true processes involved in doing one of the most basic tasks of any web user: getting a domain name and setting up email. The Dotster press release describes its service as a "unique Domain Discovery System (DDS)," adding helpfully that "visitors to the service's website can generate unique domains."

Huh? There's nothing "unique" here. This is the usual way one searches for domains and buys them online. Every time I've ever bought a domain, apparently, I've been having a "unique" experience when I searched to see if annaleenewitz.com was available and then purchased it. The only thing that's different here is that instead of getting boring suggestions for domains (like "annaleecompany.com), you'll get allegedly cool ones (like annaleeshizzle.com).

The misrepresentations here go beyond the usual "we're unique" marketing ploys. Dotster makes it seem that getting a domain and getting email are the same thing—and that the easiest way to do both is through MySpace. Let's leave aside the privacy issues involved with tying your MySpace page together with your email and domain services. I'm more worried that services like PimpedEmail will actually lower technical literacy in web users by hiding what's really going on when you create the address madleetz@worldofannalee.com.

Not only does PimpedEmail take money away from its users, it takes away their knowledge of how domain names work— and by extension, it takes away just a bit more of their power.


Annalee Newitz (annalee@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who's got all the hip buzz phrases like 'get funky' and 'far out' and 'make the scene.'


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