over 9 years on 2009-04-04


i remember vividly when the internet was first starting to truly takeoff a mad scramble to buy up the domain names of major brands and then hold the urls hostage.  it was really quite a simple and old idea, major companies were slow to realize that owning their url was critical, and smart enterprising individuals made them pay for their mistake.  i believe, though i do not remember the details, that ultimately some level of regulation meant that no one got an enormous payout for having picked up mcdonalds.com, but certainly that was the game many people tried to run.

a second iteration of the same game is playing out in the social scape with the identities of people and brands as we speak.  this time, it is going to be far harder to regulate away as a problem, and early sophisticated movers will likely get a whole lot more ransom money...  we already watched this happen with twitter name squatting, but that isn't even the tip of the iceberg....
a mildly more interesting example of this next generation of hostage taking is quantcast.com -- for advertising driven businesses, quantcast essentially establishes itself as a trusted source of statistics as the baseline for an advertising market, and then basically forces a brand to hand over ongoing access to their user stats.  i suspect, although i cannot prove, that their game is to actually do everything they possibly can to understate the stats and demographic value of 'un-quantified' sites (ones who have not yet paid their ransom) so as to force sites looking for advertising to open up the kimono -- if they aren't running their game that way, they should be.

perhaps the best corporate example in play now is getsatsifaction which holds your brand hostage by encouraging users to post and the seoing highlighted customer service problems - forcing brands to engage, and then charging you for premium management over your brand identity.
a more avant guard example is a website called famegame.com - the niche nyc based social scene website basically works by crawling photos and guest lists from new york parties and building out social profiles for each person.  they then seo each persons name.  rather than a traditional opt-in network famegame pre-populates a profile for you...they hold a set of seoed content about you hostage and you need to register with them to retake control.  they hold your nyc social scene presence hostage.an apparently fictitious, but none the less interesting example is the recent yelp scandal, where they allegedly swapped advertising deals with brands for the right to remove bad user reviews from their profiles.  my sources say this incident is bunk, but if they could getaway with it they should be doing exactly that (or someone else certainly will).my question is, whom else can you take hostage in this very new very old game?  the best i can come up with so far is celebrities and politicians (usually the best people to hold for 'ransom' in any situation) --
i don't know exactly how to factor it, but someone should create a celebrity tracking service on a per-celebrity basis.  choose which editorial content to post on each celebrity (and look to go slightly to exceedingly negative)... then, ransom the profile/identity back to the actual celeb.even more powerfully, how about a political profile hostage service? take politicians, and even local political campaigns.  categorize all of the players, and represent them in a useful but unflattering way...then sell them back their identities.  to be clear, when we say 'taking hostage' what is really implied is holding seo ranking and/or social graph relevance on the person's identity.  this is a war of attrition because the big search and social players have it generally in their interest to work in the opposite direction, but the key...  but there is a wide swath of gray area in which to play.

original swl blogposts and letters 2007-2010