Virgle.com – how Google and Virgin forgot a domain

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On March 31st this year Google and Virgin announced a joint venture: to create a human settlement on Mars. Sir Richard Branson penned a passionate statement on the Google Blog, saying:

“Larry Page, Sergey Brin and I feel strongly that contemporary technology is sufficiently advanced to make such an effort both successful and economical…”

Virgle, the name of the joint project, took applications for the first Mars mission on its site, under Google.com/virgle. And there was even a YouTube competition and official video channel. However, the entire stunt was the day before April Fool’s day, and sure enough that’s what it turned out to be.

But it now looks like the joke was on Google and Virgin.

One enterprising individual went and registered Virgle.com, but way back in January. Who registered it, and why?

Back then a story surfaced related to news that Google and Virgin were working on “a secret project”, code-named Virgle, which was not to do with Mars at all. It supposedly had an environmental bent and may have been related to news that Virgin was looking to develop new kinds of environmentally friendly fuels (Virgin Fuels), possibly in conjunction with Google.org. Google’s non-profit arm is rumored to be working on a flexible-fuel, plug-in hybrid that could be powered by electricity, gasoline or biofuels.

So well before before April 1st, one Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, Amsterdam-baseed entrepreneur and co-organiser of European startups conference The Next Web, already had the Virgle domain. Van Zanten is best known as “Boris” the guy in the white suit who invaded Mike Arrington’s house with his partner in crime Patrick Laive.

Whatever his reasons, it would be fair to say that registering Virgle will be useful publicity for The Next Web as Virgle.com now-redirects to a January 4 post on The Next Web’s blog where van Zanten commented:

“Guess what, the domainname Virgle.com was for sale and cheap too. I bought it and will make it redirect here. If this project becomes cool enough we could start another blog on that domain.”

That might have been the end of the story, until Virgin recently contacted him about the domain:

> Congratulations on registering virgle.com – swift work on your part!
> I have now been asked to retrieve the domain by both Virgin and
> Google. On that basis, we should be grateful if you would transfer
> the domain over into our control. We shall, of course, reimburse you the
> official registration and hosting costs you have incurred to date.

Van Zanten tells me “I haven’t decided what I am going to do with the [virgle.com]domain. Giving it back is an option. Starting a blog too. Selling it is always possible. For now, I’m just going to wait and see what Virgin/Google comes up with.”

So could there be more to this than meets the eye? Could Google and Virgin be working on something together after all? Id that why they want the domain back?

Stay tuned for more as this story as it develops…

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