– 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 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, 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’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 now-redirects to a January 4 post on The Next Web’s blog where van Zanten commented:

“Guess what, the domainname 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 – 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 []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…

  • david cushman

    aint urls irrelevant in these disaggregated times?

  • Dan Lester

    Love the undertone of their letter that implies something like: “Ha ha, you joker! Let’s have it back now the laughter’s died down… By the way, it would ruin the joke if you try to charge us loads of money.”

  • rtrthrthhrth

    ah well, theres alway

  • Si Jobling

    ah well, theres alway

    Not any more. Someone was just as quick as Mr Veldhuijzen van Zanten there, weren’t they?

  • Mr P

    The letter is a classic lawyer ruse –
    They ask for it back and then offer to pay some money.
    The holder of the domain then replies back, “ok how much?”

    Then G&V going running to the domain name authority and say, “look look, this guy is trying to extort money out of us!”

    It’s the oldest trick in the book, but loads fall for it.
    (Most lawyers belong in prison – and I’m married to one !)

    That said I have no time for domain name squatters and trolls, they deserve all the grief coming their way. They are carpetbaggers.

    Boris looks like a decent bloke and has a good reputation.
    I think he should ask G&V to donate a decent sum to a recognised charity and pass it over.

    I think G&V can afford to cough up some money, particularly as V puts the majority of it’s profits offshore.

  • Andy

    On what basis can they ask for the name back? Virgle isn’t a trademark, and if I hadn’t read this post I wouldn’t associate it with either Virgin or Google off the top of my head!

  • Andrew J Scott

    Boris and Patrick are nice guys IMHO; I’m sure they’ll do the right thing.

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