In 2010 the domain name "sex.com" sold for a whopping $12 million dollars, which made it the most expensive patch of HTML ever registered. It's just a word. A homestead accidentally built on a juicy vein of algorithmic oil. Gary Kremen, the man who claimed the domain back in 1995, is the internet's own Beverly Hillbilly. There's no mathematical difference between sex.com and sxe.com, except for the fact that sex.com is worth $12 million.
If you go to milk.com, you'll find the digital home of Dan Bornstein. Unlike the men and women who happily rung up their rights to investing.com, toys.com, and porn.com, Bornstein is a holdout. Milk.com looks a lot like it did when he registered it back in 1994: a simple collection of recipes, stories, and Bornstein's own music. It's one of the oldest active personal sites on the web, kept far from the hands from any enterprising dairy companies for over two decades.
There have been many moments over the years where Bornstein could've cashed in his chips and taken home a year's worth of pay for his valuable URL. Why has he stuck to his guns? VICE caught up with him to talk about the birth of milk.com in the days of the early internet, the offers he's received, and what it would take or him to sell.
VICE: How did you first get interested in the internet back in the early 90s?
Dan Bornstein: I'm a computer programmer. I've been doing it all my life, since I was seven. Right now I'm starting a new company. It was 1994 when I got milk.com, which was back when the internet was still a very new thing. People outside the industry barely knew what it was. HTTP was still relatively new; Netscape Navigator, the first commercial browser, came out that year. I was at my first job out of college, and the reason I got a domain at all was for email. Back in those days, everyone used their work email address as their personal address, and I was unsatisfied at work. I realized that I'd have to switch email addresses every time I switched jobs, so that's why I got my own site. Once I had the domain I figured I'd might as well have a website on it. There's not much to it. I've got my resume on there and a couple other pages, but to this day I have the same email.
Most personal sites you see aren't maintained. They're more of a gravestone than a living legacy.
What was the process like for registering a domain back in 1994?
It wasn't a commercial transaction. I had to apply for a domain, and back in those days you had to write a paragraph-long justification for why you should get the name you wanted to register. If I recall correctly you submitted two or three names, like first choice, second choice, third choice. You didn't do this on a website, instead it was a text file that you FTP'd (File Transfer Protocol.) You wait to hear back, and I got my first choice.
What made you choose the domain "milk.com"?
It was a running joke between a friend and me. At the time, dan.com was available, daniel.com was available, and in retrospect those would've been valuable domains to have, but I didn't want to be "email@example.com." This friend of mine, for vaguely justifiable reasons, called me "milk boy." So I was like "oh, milk.com is available." It was a short word and kind of memorable, so that's why I picked it.
At the time you must've had no idea that the internet would grow like it did and dairy companies would end up gunning for the name, right?
No way. I certainly wasn't like, "This thing is going to be worth millions!"
If you go to milk.com, you'll see your music, your favorite recipes, stuff like that. Did it ever have any purpose beyond being your personal site?
Nope, it was always just my homepage. Just a place for me to dump random stuff that I thought might be of vague interest to other people.
I've had people who would talk about their "client," and I assume that at least one of them were representing some sort of milk organization.
Obviously, you've received offers for the domain name, but you say on your site that you won't sell it for short of a humongous offer. What about milk.com makes you want to keep it? Is it sentimental value? Do you just get a kick out of it?
All the above, but it's also the same reason I got it in the first place. I don't want to change my email address. I find real value in that. It's also fun to have because it's a good party conversation.
What's the most amount of money you've been offered for it?
The biggest number I've ever seen directly was $100,000, which I think is a total lowball. But I've had other offers where the person on the other end is being kind of cagey. I've had people who would talk about their "client," and I assume that at least one of them were representing some sort of milk organization. But we've never had any real negotiation.
The internet has changed so much over the last 15 years. It's cool to go to milk.com and remember that there was a time when you could just get a domain like that. It reminds you that, once upon a time, the internet was owned by actual people. It makes me nostalgic; does it give you the same vibes?
Yeah it does. You don't see many personal sites anymore. I won't say that I'm the most active updater in the world, but I do try to keep milk.com current. A little bit of content every once in a while. But most personal sites you see aren't maintained. They're more of a gravestone than a living legacy.
Could you ever see yourself selling it? Do you see yourself going to your grave with milk.com?
On the one hand, I'd love to say that I'll have it forever and I'll die with it. But on the other hand I do live in the real world and life is expensive. If someone came forward with a $10 million offer, and they were really serious, I'd probably go for it. I mean, that would be enough for me to retire on. It would make a significant impact on my lifestyle. It would represent a certain amount of personal freedom and it'd be hard to turn that down on principle.
You sound like you'd struggle with that though. It seems like it's important enough to you that it'd be a difficult decision no matter what.
Oh yeah, it would not be an easy decision. Even at $10 million.
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