Tech by VICE

An Obscure American Company Has Owned Army.com for 20 Years

And one of its founders says they've been approached "probably on a daily basis" to sell.

by Matthew Braga
Sep 18 2015, 12:00pm

A screengrab of Army.com as of September 17, 2015. Image: Screengrab

Army.com is, perhaps not surprisingly, full of information about the army.

But look closely, and you'll see that Army.com actually has no affiliation with the army—to the US Army, or any army, for that matter.

According to the website's footer, the site "is provided by FanMail.com, L.L.C. and is not affiliated, owned, or managed by the United States Coast Guard, the United States Army or the military and/or government of any country." It was registered in 1995.

Naturally, I wanted to speak with the owners of FanMail.com, LLC. How is it that the US Army hasn't been able to take control of the domain after this long?

According to Lon Brolliar, FanMail's president and CEO, Army.com was just one of a slew of domains he obtained back in 1995, when the web was still in its infancy. At the time, Brolliar was working at an internet service provider (ISP) called Phase IV in northern Alabama. Rather than offer subscribers a boring email address named after the domain name of their ISP, he wanted to give subscribers the chance to personalize their email addresses with a vanity URL instead.

FanMail has been approached to sell Army.com "probably on a daily basis"

Brolliar teamed up with Mark van Dyke and Andy Dorman, two colleagues from Phase IV. They applied for a slew of simple domains—mostly school sports mascots and animals, such as bulldogs.com, huskies.com, wildcats.com and even cougars.com—and set out to offer personalized email service to anyone who was interested.

The idea was that fans of various schools, teams or organizations might want to show their fandom with an email address of the same name—not unlike a vanity license plate, professing a car owner's love for the Blue Jays. (Given the number of people now perfectly content with boring Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook addresses, we know how that vision actually turned out.)

But when Phase IV was sold in 1999, Brolliar says the company that bought the ISP wasn't interested in the custom domains. So the trio took their domains and their personalized email service, and formed FanMail.com, LLC.

"Are you tired of being 'yourname1966[at]internetprovider' or 'initials or propername[at]workemail.com?' and just want to have an email address that doesn't require that you add numbers after your name?" asks FanMail's website today. "FanMailPlus offers you a level of customization you probably never considered."

As the web evolved, so too did the services offered on FanMail's catalog of domains. Cougars.com, unsurprisingly, now points to a dating site for men seeking older women, (though there's still a link to setup your own cougars.com email address further down the page).

They've been offered money in the seven figure range

"Email was the primary original purpose," Brolliar said of Army.com. "But we have ex-military on our staff, and one of our owners is ex-military, and he saw that as opportunity to provide information back to those in the service, or who had previously been in the service."

Nowadays, Army.com is primarily intended to offer information about the US Army and, to a lesser extent, armies around the world. Visitors can take ASVAB practice tests, which determines a potential recruit's eligibility, learn more about Army history and hierarchy, and connect with local recruiters. There's even a dating portal run by the same people behind Cougars.com—and, of course, you can still sign up for an email address ending in army.com.

According to Lon, FanMail has been approached to sell Army.com "probably on a daily basis."

"The biggest one was back in 2001, when I was working with a colonel in the military that wanted to see how they could acquire it," said Mark van Dyke, one of FanMail's three original co-founders, who is now responsible for the company's business development. "But that was really the last time the Army has reached out to us."

"We've had other companies and individuals express interest," Brolliar said—they've been offered money in the seven figure range, he claims—"but our business model is not selling domains. We're in it for the long haul."

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