The organizers at Occupy Wall Street are struggling with a pretty ironic money problem: they have too much of it and there are plenty of people looking to cash in, including cybersquatters. At the General Assembly on Tuesday night, the protesters in Zuccotti Park went back and forth over how many thousands of dollars they'd be willing to spend on a better web domain than their current official URL NYCGA.net. OccupyWallSt.org is owned by an affinity group friendly with the protesters at Zuccotti, and OccupyWallStreet.org is owned by early supporters of the movement Adbusters. As Melissa Gira Grant tweeted on Tuesday, some domain squatters offered to sell Occupy.com for $150,000 earlier this week, but the General Assembly ended up agreeing on spending $8,000 on OccupyWallStreet.net, as cited in the group's draft proposal:
After many phone calls and negations with the current owner of the domain, we have settled on a price of $8000. While this may seem like a large number to some, it is actually extremely reasonable considering the traffic that such a domain could generate and the amount of donations income that is sure to follow. In other words, this site will pay for itself in no time.
This wasn't an ordinary Generaly Assembly meeting, though. Organizers posted the draft proposal on NYCGA.net at 3 a.m. Tuesday morning, giving only 16 hours of discussion online before the actually meeting took place at 7 p.m. Normally, drafts require 24-hours of discussion online before they go to a vote, but the Internet Working Group is becoming increasingly paranoid that the domain squatters that had snatched up relevant URLs as the movement gained attention would hoard them. The $150,000 offer seems to have kicked the protesters into high gear, leading to the urgent and somewhat secretive early evening meeting. Gira Grant, an independent journalist who's been covering Occupy Wall Street, called it "an emergency."
"There was pressure in the air that they have to act now so that this guy doesn't raise the price," Gira Grant told The Atlantic Wire, referring to the man in Florida that offered to sell them the domain occupywallstreet.net for $10,000. They talked him down to $8,000 and secured the domain from being sold to anyone else with a 10 percent deposit. "He needed to sell it because he's in a dire financial situation which I think people also empathized with," Gira Grant said.
The organizers themselves are not going into the details of the negotiations but also discussed at length how the importance of a domain name justifies a four-figure price. Similarly, they discussed how keeping the domain out of the wrong person's hands could justify the high price. The fear is well-deserved in a way since Bank of America went on a domain-name buying spree earlier this year after WikiLeaks announced that they had acquired a massive cache of internal emails from the company. (They took the specifici route, however, securing URLs like BrianMoynihanBlows.com rather than WallStreetSucks.com.) Gira Grant said the debate at the General Assembly lasted almost an hour and included all kinds of speculation over the worse case scenario. Gira Grant remembered, "They mentioned the Koch Brothers as an example of somebody that would be particularly horrendous."
A price as high as $150,000 is completely out of the question, however. "We would never buy it because we wouldn't have enough money," Andrew Smith, an Occupy organizer working on facilitation and outreach, told The Atlantic Wire. "It doesn't make much sense that would be more than a fifth of the general fund. We wouldn't spend it on a domain name." But as Smith suggests, it's not because they don't have the money in the bank right now. In fact, the movement's swelling war chest has become sort of a drag for organizers. Reuters reports:
Occupy Wall Street has raised more than $500,000 in New York alone to support anti-greed demonstrations and, seven weeks into the movement, protesters are finding that having money creates headaches.
The challenges have included how to become a non-profit entity, how to deal with credit card companies withholding donations, choosing a bank that shares the movement's philosophy and budgeting what to spend cash on.
The Occupy organizers in New York want to make sure they make the right choices not only because they want to spend their funds wisely but also because they want to set a good example for the spin-off protests around the world. "The people that operate NYCGA.net want to make sure they're accurately representing the movement and what's happening at Zuccotti Park," Gira Grant explained. "They feel a sense of responsibility."
The skyrocketing value of Occupy-related domains is both a sign of the protests's success as well as a sign of the movement's loose structure. (A top-down group would have secured domain names while they were cheap.) Even their allies that own good domain names aren't willing to give them up now, but we'd guess that Occupy.com wasn't worth six-figures before the global movement branded the word "Occupy." As Gira Grant said, "That might be one of the best indicators that they had no idea that this would take off in the way that it did."
Correction: An earlier version of this post said that the General Assembly meeting took place at 7 a.m. It actually took place at 7 p.m. We've updated the language so that it reads accurately.