The Game of the Name

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Talk about expensive addresses: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Compaq Computer Corp., owners of the Alta Vista search engine, paid a San Jose, Calif., business owner $3.35 million for the rights to the domain name

That's a lot of dough for 12 letters and a period (no charge for the the www.) -- very likely the most ever paid for a domain name, in fact. The lucky seller is Jack Marshall, who in January 1994 registered the Internet address for his startup, AltaVista Technology. He might as well have stayed in bed after that -- it's unlikely anything he did with his company subsequently ever yielded the kind of return he was to get on his $100 registration fee.

Speculating in domain names is not new: Enterprising individuals bought hundreds of Internet addresses such as and held them for ransom from their namesakes. (In 1996 a court ruled against registering copyrighted names.) But Marshall had his fair and square -- the Alta Vista search engine wasn't launched until November 1995, and was first registered under the name (Why they picked a name that was already taken is inexplicable.) However, having a search engine's traffic mistakenly piling into your site daily isn't necessarily desirable, especially next to $3.5 million, and Marshall finally settled. He'll be able to buy all sorts of domain names now.