Where do you go when you want free stuff? The samples at Costco aren’t free; you have to pay an annual membership. Your free birthday meal at Denny’s costs you for anything you order to go with your Grand Slam, and the free entertainment on Cavill Avenue comes at the expense of dealing with three hundred drunks in Surfers Paradise. It’s getting so that a sign reading ‘Free’ is just shorthand for, Warning: you are about to be harangued over something unrelated.
So it is with a free website URL from Tokelau.
Now, before I’m accused of a very selective form of racism, let me be clear that I hold nothing against the people of Tokelau. As a territory of New Zealand, situated near Samoa, I think it’s even taken a place of honor somewhere on my list of places to visit. Something about a Pacific Island protected under the watchful eye of a first world nation makes for a fascinating and peaceful holiday dream. I bet they even air Shortland Street there. Oh, and they give away free website addresses.
Only, wait a minute. There’s that sign again, that carries some cost we can’t imagine until it’s too late. ‘Free.’
The thing about dot-tk websites, is that they really are free, by law, to register… through the government of Tokelau. I’ve never actually found a way to do this, but I believe it’s possible, at least for citizens of the country. When you visit a URL registration site with the words ‘dot’ and ‘tk’ in the name, though, the sign that says ‘Free’ means exactly what we’ve come to expect.
Here’s what they do:
- They register a domain from Tokelau, which is free… for them, that is.
- They offer that domain to you for free… as long as you follow their rules. What could be easier? Just redirect the link to your friendly blog, and you’ll be liked and followed and otherwise affirmed in no time.
- Fifty weeks later, they send you an email message, which says your domain will expire in two weeks, and that you must renew it more than two weeks before expiry for it to remain free. Wait… what? It expires when? I have to renew it… when?
- From that point forward, your URL goes back in the sale pool, but this time with ‘special’ status. The claim is that it’s special because it has a recognizable dictionary word in it, but I’m quite sure I’ve never seen my name in a dictionary. Furthermore, exactly the same URL with a .me extension, for example, might still be free. It seems that the only special thing about your domain is that you need it back. Now it’s a hostage.
- So, you curse the domain managers for being thieves and yourself for being an idiot. Basically, you curse everyone except for the good, peace-loving people of Tokelau, because I’m sure they don’t deserve it. Then, after the neighbors complain, you stop cursing and give in, leasing back one more year of your domain for five times the price that a dot-com equivalent would cost.
- The domain managers happily take your money, but they do not return your domain to you.
So, guess what happened to me last week? Yes, thanks to a secondhand dot-tk URL, a dozen contests and I don’t know how many literary agents now hold submissions with a blog address in them that could lead them to online gambling or flame-wars over soap operas. Maybe I’ll get lucky; maybe the new owner of the domain will be better looking than I am, and someone will mistake him for me. Maybe the new owner will direct it to a porn site, and an agent will finally take notice. Chances are, though, that the agents I’ve queried will only learn how long a sentence can run on while some twelve-year-old tries to predict whether Ridge Forrester will come back to Brooke. Agents rarely respond to queries as it is, so I’ll never know how many of them scratched their heads after following my link and before moving on to the next hopeful. It’s one less chance of being noticed, and nobody needs fewer of those.
There’s a moral to every story, so here is a lesson that I will personally never learn: don’t be so cheap. One I have learned, though, is to exercise my cheapness at Costco and at Denny’s, where I can see the faces of the people who are pushing another agenda. What I’ll never do again is take out another free web domain.
It just isn’t worth the cost.