Is It “Egotistical” to Own Your Own Name on the Web?

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Is it “egotistical” to own your own name as a dot-com? Elitist? Pretentious? Narcissistic?

And does it give you an “unfair advantage” over others?

Certain readers have been asking questions like these, ever since I started urging you all to register your own names — whenever possible — as dot-com Internet domains. Like I did with GaryMatthews.com.

Okay, technically I didn’t register the dot-com version. I bought it. Not cheaply, but worth every penny. The related names, GaryMatthews.org and GaryMatthews.net, I did register myself.

We hear all the time that “all the good web names are already taken”. But I’ve noticed that most of my friends could still register their own names as dot-com Internet domains — if they hurry. Because this lifetime opportunity won’t ever come around again.

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No one else seems to be talking about this. So I’ve started encouraging my friends to act now. Some of you have heard from me in person. And some of you through my website.

Your response has surprised me for its strength. A lot of you have reacted by doing as I’ve suggested — you’ve claimed your own names on the web. Some of you have asked for advice about precisely what next steps to take.

And others have raised objections. Like, “But I don’t want a website! Why would I need one anyway?” (I’ve written here about why you should own your own web-name even if you never are going to have a website.)

And now these latest objections:

1. Wouldn’t it be an ego trip for me to register my own name as a web domain?

2. Wouldn’t it give me an unfair advantage over someone else?

Wow! These are reservations I never expected to hear — never even thought about. But I now wonder whether such concerns aren’t at the root of what resistance I am encountering.

Let’s examine these:

 
The Ego Trip Objection

No, it isn’t egomaniacal, snobbish, conceited, or self-absorbed to reserve your name as an Internet domain.

The Internet is many things, but above all it is a system of communication. Think of it as a world-girdling postal service and telephone network, rolled into one. Your spot in that is your personal communication nexus. It’s the inbox where you get incoming letters. It’s the handset where you take incoming calls. And it’s the place from which you transmit outgoing messages.

Now please think: Do you have your own name on your mailbox? What about your phone listing in the white pages? If you mail a package or letter, whose name do you put on the return address? When you phone someone who may not recognize your voice, do you identify yourself?

It’s no different when you have an Internet address that consists of your own name. It’s simply a courtesy to other people. Those who may need to contact you can do so more easily. Those you need to contact won’t be spooked by anonymity (or worse yet, indifferent).

Keep in mind, you’ll have an Internet presence and persona whether you want one or not. You can be open and honest about who you really are, so other people can size you up by daylight. Or you can try (unsuccessfully) to hide behind a curtain. Which is more modest?

In an earlier article, I noted that owning your own name allows you to have a personalized email address, like Gary@GaryMatthews.com. I would argue that that’s no more a “vanity” address than something like GaryMatthews@Hotmail.com or GaryMatthews@Gmail.com.

I have good friends who put their own names on their Facebook accounts, LinkedIN profiles, and Twitter feeds, then use those to collect thousands of friends, connections, and followers. Some of those same people hesitate to register a web domain for fear someone will see them as conceited. Go figure.

 
The Unfair Advantage Objection

Does owning your own name as an Internet domain give you an unfair advantage over someone else?

The answer here is: “Possibly.” That depends on your assumptions and definitions. But owning your own name does give you important leverage you otherwise would not have. Someone else might at times see you as having an advantage because of this. Unfair? Let’s see.

The problem here has to do with the global, all-encompassing nature of the Internet. If your name is (for example) Kite Weatherby, there may be hundreds of other people, throughout the world, with that same name. Any or all of you could put that name on your respective postal-service mailboxes.

But it’s different on the Internet. Only one person can own the name KiteWeatherby.com. So if you want that name, it behooves you to reserve it ahead of one of your namesakes.

Even if you are the only Kite Weatherby anywhere, consider this: Once you begin to achieve prominence in your field — if, for instance, you write a popular novel, obtain a juicy job title, or whatnot — anyone else could reserve your name in the hope of selling it to you later.

There’s a vast and thriving industry of people who do precisely that. They’re called “domainers”. It’s a perfectly legitimate business which — done right — can perform a valuable service. Domainers look for names to buy up. If yours is one of those names, it may cost you a pretty penny when you finally get around to purchasing it. Why not grab it now? Be your own domainer!

Owning your own web name does give you an advantage over other people with the same name. How much of an advantage is a tricky question. The fairness (or lack thereof) is even trickier.

Let’s use my name — Gary Matthews — as an example. According to WhitePages.com, there are 479 people in the US named Gary Matthews, and another 207 named Gary Mathews (with one “t”). (I believe that’s just in the US. Many more worldwide.) But there’s only one GaryMatthews.com, and I’m fortunate to own it.

All things being equal, this gives me — in theory — a leg up whenever anyone types “Gary Matthews” into a web browser search field. However, I can tell you from experience that not all things are equal. Nor is a dot-com domain the only way of gaining an arguably unfair advantage.

My problem is that there aren’t just lots of Gary Matthewses: There are lots of Gary Matthewses who are prominent in their fields. Some are very prominent. Some are celebrities, even household names.

There are two Major League baseball players with my name. They’re father and son, and one is a TV personality to boot. There’s a famous soccer player with my name. There are several popular musicians, a politician, a bodybuilder, a dentist, a neurologist, a car dealer, and a much-loved, recently deceased educator. There’s at least one Gary Matthews who was recently featured on Mugshots.com. I could go on.

I write books, and when potential readers look for me on the Internet, I’d like for my name and picture to pop up in Google and other search engines. But I’m competing with all these other Gary Matthewses for the Google first page. Owning GaryMatthews.com helps — it helps a lot — but it doesn’t protect me from all the other advantages, unfair or not, wielded by my various namesakes.

These days Google “personalizes” its search results. In other words, if you know me or have expressed interest in my work (and if Google knows that), Google may conclude that it’s me you’re looking for. In that case, you’ll see my website on the front page of your search results.

Otherwise, you’ll probably see the ballplayers, the car dealer, and lots of other Gary Matthewses ahead of me. In its non-personalized pages, Google has at times listed my site on its front page, but recently I’ve dropped to page 2. Owning my own name doesn’t keep me from having to fight for a top spot.

But it’s better than before: Before owning my own domain, I couldn’t even appear on Google’s page 17, or 23, or pages even further back. I was just invisible, my books and readers notwithstanding.

Here’s another point: Even if we assume, for discussion purposes, that owning your own name gives you an unfair advantage — that doesn’t mean you have to use the advantage unfairly. Nothing forces you to be unscrupulous or exploitative in your behavior. Just don’t do that!

But whether you do or not, one certainty remains: Someone, sooner or later, will own your web domain, even if you choose not to do so. You’ll then have exactly zero control over how others use the advantage that gives them over you. Wish I could promise you that it won’t be used unfairly against you — but I can’t.

If you work in a highly competitive field, a colleague who owns his or her own domain may register yours, just to keep you from leveling the playing field. How will you feel then about unfair advantages?

Someone may register your name and use the corresponding website to post erotic — or even pornographic — stories and images. Things like this have happened to people who are close to me.

It’s your call. I have nothing to gain or lose, whatever decision you make. But I suspect I’ll have friends who, 20 years from now, will say to me: “You knew how important this was! Why didn’t you tell me, back when it mattered and I could have done something about it?”

Well, now is when it matters. You’ve been told. If you want my help with this, contact me and I’ll help you for free. Just don’t blame me, 20 years from now, for failing to speak up.

Do you already own your own name as an Internet domain? Do you want to? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comment form, and let’s keep the conversation alive!


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