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Dilemma: Capitalism Meets Morals on the Net

Recently, my wife got an unsolicited offer to purchase one of her domains. At first, she blew it off, thinking it was some sort of scam. But then the guy emailed her a second time, sounding quite serious. His email is PGP signed, and he's a professor at a major university in our state.

This deal is not for chump change. I won't state exactly how much they've been negotiating over, but we're not talking "nice night out on the town" money, we're talking "able to pay down a fair amount of debt and still have enough left to buy a backyard fence" money. The guy is obviously quite serious about wanting the domain, and since he's local, we can insist on meeting in person in public and exchanging cash for it, just to be totally safe.

My wife still uses the domain for an email address, but that's about it. We have an art portfolio site up on it, but she hasn't updated it in a while. What's more, she doesn't really feel like the domain describes her anymore; it did in her anime fangirl-ish teenage years and early twenties, but not really anymore.

Here's the deal: we did some investigation on this guy, and not only does he have a long background in business and computers, he's also starting up a new media advertising firm -- which could mean anything from banner ads (not so bad) to setting up domain squatting ad pages (much, much worse). I abhor these folks who purchase hundreds upon hundreds of domains and then fill them up with bullshit advertisements for shady companies. They dilute the Web for all of us.

At least one of our friends has made a veiled jab at us about the whole thing -- when my wife asked for opinions on new domain names to replace the one she's selling, her reply was along the lines of "somedomainbrokerwillhavethisnameinthreeyears.net" (paraphrasing here for privacy). My wife says she didn't mean it that way, but honestly I don't know else she could've meant it. And it makes me angry. Why shouldn't we sell a domain we're barely using for a good sum of money? If we don't care enough to put content on it now, why should we care what somebody else does with it?

In the end, it's her decision, but it has caused me to think about my own convictions. Is this "selling out?" Does it count as that anyway if the domain is essentially inactive? What if he does put up one of those disgusting content-less ad-spam sites? Are we contributing to the pollution of the net then, just to make some cash? Does this make us no better than the politicians accepting bribes -- sorry, "campaign contributions" -- from PACs?

And on the flipside of the coin, if we're just sitting on the domain and essentially doing nothing with it, aren't we in effect acting like domain brokers ourselves? Sure, we're not cluttering it up with a bunch of ads to make money, but neither are we allowing anybody else to use the name. I have friends (possibly even the person who criticized us, I don't know) who literally own a dozen or more domains. You can't honestly tell me they're maintaining a different Web site on every single one of them.

I probably shouldn't worry about it; the domain is hers to do with as she pleases, and it is her decision to make. It just nags at me. We could really, really use the money. The question is whether we're selling our soul in order to get it.

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