Back in 2002, I wrote an article for SitePoint about buying a good domain name. In the article, I advocated for buying domain names without hyphens (so KarateForums.com instead of Karate-Forums.com), if at all possible. I said that it would work with search engines and it would also work with people who were spreading your site through word of mouth. It was easier to remember and easier to say.
I didn’t have the track record and deep experience that I have now. In other words, even though I had more experience than most (a few years) and good instincts, I was 17 years old at the time and not as self-confident as I am now.
A prominent member of the SitePoint community, who made a ton of money creating unoriginal cookie cutter sites, back when search engines were more tolerant of that, started a thread to pick apart my article. Let’s just say that his message didn’t come across as kind, constructive criticism, and concluded with this:
“So I’ll take my thousands of visitors from directories, you can keep your handful from word of mouth.”
The first few replies agreed with him, but then Jeremy Wright stepped in and defended the article, saying that what I advocated made sense and was a good, sound practice. I don’t think I knew Jeremy particularly well at the time. But that meant a lot to me.
Though there was mixed opinion in the thread, more people disagreed with my article than agreed with it, including some really prominent SitePointers. The original person who criticized the article came back repeatedly, with increasing ferocity, claiming that my article was not a “real article.” More quotes:
“Some people can hark on word of mouth all you like, but it doesn’t produce results for a content site or a small ticket ecommerce site.”
“When someone writes an article that recommends that you do something not conducive to a popular site then someone needs to correct them and the general public who read said article.”
“I get the feeling many of you are opposing me not because you know anything about this topic, or feel strongly about this topic, but rather you hate the fact that I’m seemingly cocky about my knowledge.”
But Jeremy continued to respond to him and the other prominent member continued to stick to his guns, even when Jeremy tried to explain that we were just having a conversation and there wasn’t necessarily just one right way.
“This isn’t a conversation, this is instruction,” said the member. “… I am instructing people as to why a hyphenated domain name helps you in search engines and directories. You make your own conclusions as to whether or not to use one, however that it helps is a fact. You decide if being #1 in directories is worth it if your domain name is supposedly harder to remember or type in.”
Of course, a lot of what I recommended seems like common sense now. Most (virtually all?) popular websites do not have dashes in their domain names. But you have to remember that I’ve been in this space for a long time. Side note: Directories? Heh. Yeah, that was definitely relevant long term. Anyway…
1. From that point, I always considered Jeremy my friend and expect that I always will.
2. It’s good to be on the right side of history. Ha.
So why did this forum discussion from 2002 come up now? I am going through papers and things that I have collected over the years, downsizing, and I came across a 20 page printout of the thread. This thread meant enough to my 17 year old self to print it out. I haven’t thought about the thread in a long time, until I came across the hard copy the other day.
The point of this article? Our online communities are not just words on a screen. It’s cool to crunch numbers, analyze data and automate processes, but never lose sight of the fact that we help create moments in people’s lives that they will remember decades from now. That is our legacy, as communities and community managers.