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#Emoticon .com : The story of an aged #domain and its pioneer #British registrant

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When we joined the Internet in the very early 1990’s the overall graphic experience was very minimal, and navigating the World Wide Web was a textual only experience.

Internet chat environments such as IRC utilized a set of character combinations called emoticons, a portmanteau of emotion and icons. An emoticon, or “smiley” is the predecessor of the modern emoji.

Mr. Russell Weetch is a British pioneer of the domain registration process as an early adopter, and an “end user” domain registrant.

Russell registered, developed and used domain names early on, the way that they were designed to be: as brand representations and as a memorable shortcut to IP addresses.

Mr Weetch registered Emoticon.com, a domain he subsequently sold. We reached out to Russell for an interview, which is a rare testimonial from the early days of domain name registrations, at the dawn of the commercial Internet.

Russell Weetch – Original registrant of Emoticon.com – Backdrop by Fausto García on Unsplash

Here is what we talked about:

DomainGang : Russell, great to have you on our publication. Please share with us a few details about yourself, and your professional background.

Russell Weetch : We created the company, Systematic Marketing in 1990. It was an accident really, as we had intended to do something else but were let down by investors at the last minute so had to do something.

It was only meant to be a temporary consultancy but once we had a couple of clients for whom we were developing software (even that wasn’t intentional) we stuck with it.

We did a little bit of work within Compuserve but when the internet went commercial it’s something we embraced.

We created one of the first UK commercial websites, emoticon.com and also the first UK search index, ukindex.co.uk and took the National Trust onto the web in 1995.

DomainGang : Of all domain names, why did you choose to register the domain name Emoticon.com in 1994?

Russell Weetch : Emoticons were so involved in the internet that we decided to create a site explaining them and a domain name of emoticon was an obvious choice – we registered emoticon.com, emoticon.org and emoticon.org.uk.

I wish we’d grabbed a few more domains – in particular the plurals (emoticons.com for example)!

DomainGang : How hard was it to secure the domain and register it, and why did you opt for the .com, as opposed to the .co.uk?

Russell Weetch : It wasn’t difficult to get them. No one had registered them so we just did through our ISP (Demon).

They were expensive if I remember correctly – £200 for a “.com”.

We chose .com as the idea was that this was to be an international site – in fact that was always our philosophy, the web was only really about World wide communication.

DomainGang : How was Emoticon.com used over the years, and did you seek to register other domains?

Russell Weetch : The original emoticon.com was a guide to what emoticons were. We also included a guide to TLAs (three letter acronyms) and a list of sites that were interesting to look at.

Sadly, a lot of those sites are no longer with us, although they are possibly available on the Wayback machine.

I’ve registered quite a few domains over the years, mostly to do with the business and some for development ideas.

We also used it to sell t-shirts in support of the Randal Schwartz defence fund. Great shirt, all those that bought one had their email on the back. Some great emails on there.

DomainGang : Did you receive inquiries about Emoticon.com over the years, and what were your thoughts at the time the first offer arrived?

Russell Weetch : We never received any enquiries for emoticon.com, although we did get a generous one for ukindex.co.uk which we turned down as we thought it was a scam – turns out it wasn’t, but the ship had sailed by then.

DomainGang : What made you sell, eventually? Could you disclose the price, or price range, along with any interesting details

Russell Weetch : Out of interest I asked Sedo for a valuation and they came back and said £100,000+.

Following that their domain brokering department got in touch and offered to try and find a buyer. In the end we got nowhere near the valuation, below £25k in fact, but as we hadn’t done anything with the site for years decided to take the money.

Maybe we didn’t do too badly as it was then on the GoDaddy auction site for a couple of years, although it has gone from there now.

DomainGang : Russell, thank you very much for this great story about the early Internet days when domain names began to be used!

Note: Russell Weetch is the founder of Systematic Marketing Limited at SMXI.com and a blockchain enthusiast at Urban Cohort.

You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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