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Archive for January, 2008

I had never heard of http://cafe-de-flore.com/ before I received their email yesterday. I made a web site for my friends, never thinking a small cafe in an obscure city in Costa Rica could be mistaken for a world-famous location thousands of miles away in Paris, France.
(Though their fame may be a result of believing their own hyperbole. They claim to be the birthplace of surrealism, but all through my education in Modern Art History, the name Cafe de Flore was never once uttered. The events at Cabaret Voltaire, birthplace of Dada in Zurich, Switzerland, however, were described in at least one, and very likely two lectures. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabaret_Voltaire_(Z%C3%BCrich) )

Apparently, there has been a practice of buying a domain name similar to another more famous one, in hopes that the owners of the famous one will want to buy it. This is called by the ICANN “bad faith” or “cybersquatting” and sounds very much like extortion or piracy, something it would never cross my mind to engage in. If I were that kind of person I would already be rich and wouldn’t need to extort the owners of a little cafe, no matter how famous.

It was never my intention to sell cafedeflores.com, not to the owners of Cafe de Flore, or anyone else. I guess that was another part of my motive for taking the site down, to demonstrate my non-attachment to the name or the website. If ICANN says I have to hand it over, I will. But certainly not at my own expense, without due process.

Gina, the owner of Cafe de Flores in Heredia, also urged me to remove her site. She said we could find another name.

But then I think, if the owners of cafe-de-flore.com (registered in 1998) had wanted to purchase cafedeflores.com (registered 2007), they had nine years to do it. It almost seems like they were waiting for someone like me to do it, so they could get it at no cost. This seems now, with a bit of time to think about it, like a predatory threat, a cheap scare tactic to get me to give something up for free that I worked and paid for. In that light, the principled thing to do would be to wait to take any action until the ICANN ruling. But yesterday I let my fear rule me. How sad.

It wouldn’t really bother me except that by making this allegation, they are forcing me to link the two websites in my mind. In turn, this linking wouldn’t bother me if their website didn’t look like it needs redesigning in a more down-to-earth postmodern style that acknowledges with some humor its own commercial roots. That’s right: the “com” in dot-com stands for “commercial.”

The designers have succumbed to the depressing trend that requires one to download “plug-ins” to view the site. Some designers seem to imagine a website is an actual geographical location, a place to do things, rather than what it actually is: an advertisement.

This is the main difference (among several) between cafedeflores.com and cafe-de-flore.com: the website at cafedeflores.com professes to be nothing other than what it is, an advertisement for a small neighborhood cafe in Costa Rica.

There is no boasting of being the birthplace of anything or having a long and colorful history. It is just a cafe, with excellent coffee, food and service, in a friendly atmosphere and at reasonable prices. The site does not teem with the names of living and dead celebrities, who come “to see, to be sawn, but discretion was very important for them.” (It must be hard to be discrete when you are being sawn.)

The other differences are subtle, but important:

One cafe is in Paris, France, the other is in Heredia, Costa Rica.

One has hyphens in the domain name, the other does not.

One has an ‘s’ at the end of the name, the other does not.

One appears in first place when you Google “cafe de flore,” the other does not appear at all.

One is in both French and English, the other is in Spanish only.

One requires plug-ins, one does not.

One is made with frames, the other is not.

One is all about Paris, the other never mentions that city.

When you type “cafe-de-flore.com” into the address bar of a web browser, you get a username and password login box instead of a web page. If you don’t have the username and password, you get a hostile warning in French.

When you type “cafedeflores.com” into the address bar of a web browser, you go directly to the website.

If I had been trying to confuse people and make them think the two sites were somehow related, I might have added “cafe de flore” to my keyword meta-tags in the head. I did not, because I never heard of Cafe de Flore until this morning when their email appeared in my inbox. In fact, there are no keyword meta-tags in the head of any of the documents making up the Cafe de Flores website.

My way of marketing is to let the advertising illustrate the product truthfully, then let the customers decide what they like without force-feeding them a tasteless diet of history and celebrity name-dropping. Sending threatening emails in a pathetic attempt to acquire a $10 domain name for free also seems like a poor way to win customers.

If I had done the design for cafe-de-flore.com, I would have asked my client if they wanted to purchase as many other similar domain names as possible, within the limits of their budget. If they had said “No, it would be better to wait until someone else buys one, then try to scare them into giving it to us free,” I think I would have passed on their account.

People go to cafedeflores.com to find the phone number and address of the actual cafe, not to play games with plug-ins or read self-aggrandizing history tracts dotted with celebrity names like raisins in an otherwise bland and bloated confection.

If the designers of cafe-de-flore.com really thought “discretion” was important to their customers, would they be using their customers names as a marketing device? And do their famous customers really want their names linked to an establishment that hires lawyers to threaten people for little or no reason? Someone needs to think through all or many of the possible consequences of their actions before sending random email threats to people who have done nothing wrong.
End of rant.

Now I’m putting Gina’s website back on line and waiting for a complaint to be lodged with ICANN, as should have been done in the first place, if there really had been a problem.

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