TECHSPLOITATION Usually I don’t let the PR e-mails get to me. My standard procedure is to review and delete these missives from alternate marketplace universes where people care about incremental changes to the graphic user interface 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 got plain 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 e-mail addresses as they like using that domain extension. For example, the drummer could be firstname.lastname@example.org, and the band could award loyal fans with their own addresses such as email@example.com.” Hmmm, could “madbeatz” be another one of those hip buzz phrases? What about “rocks”?
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 PimpedEmail 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 News Corp.–owned MySpace is figuring out ways to accessorize its free service with little nuggets at teen prices. I still reserve the right to be grossed out when it happens.
More depressing still is the way PimpedEmail pulls the covers over the true process involved in doing one of the most basic tasks of any Web user: getting a domain name and setting up e-mail. The Dotster press release describes its service as a “unique Domain Discovery System (DDS),” adding helpfully that “visitors to the service’s Web site 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 had a “unique” experience when I searched to see if annaleenewitz.com (for example) 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 e-mail are the same thing — and that the easiest way to do both is through MySpace. Let’s leave aside the privacy issues involved in tying your MySpace page together with your e-mail 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who’s got all the hip buzz phrases, like “get funky” and “far out” and “make the scene.”