A eulogy for purple.com

Purple.com was by no means a complex website. It was, in fact, just what it advertised: the colour purple. After a time, some more pages were added, explaining why the site was purple, setting out some very high prices to advertise on or lease the site, and offering some little images you could transpose to your own site to show how big of a fan of purple.com you were.

purple_network.png 🖼️

purple_network.png

It was simple, and it was small, and that's what made purple.com so brilliant. With websites becoming ever more complex, and more of the web being sucked up into gigantic social media websites, it was nice to always have purple. Testing your internet by typing purple.com into the address bar was always a joy. The lack of content made every small change to the site meaningful, and so it became all too easy to notice when something was coming.

I remember it all starting with a massive ad for a matress company (not the one you might be thinking of). Advertising usually annoys me, but I was mostly just intrigued. That company must have paid a lot to purple.com's owner to get an ad that big on there. A note was added to the availability subpage around the same time:

Q. Why does Leesa have something that isn't listed here?
A. They were creative and suggested something we hadn't thought to suggest but that we thought was good.

Which was certainly vague and mysterious. A new page appeared too, stating that purple.com had recieved offers for sale, and setting a price on the entire site: $1.5m USD. This was a sudden shift from the site's previous position that leasing the site was all anybody could possibly need and that they'd be very suspicious of anybody who wanted to buy it.

Leasing is a fairly standard business structure. In most contexts you can achieve most of the rights you'd like from purchase via lease, although you often have to enumerate what you want. If you really feel that leasing purple.com doesn't work for you and you don't have a credible argument for why, understand that I will wonder what you are up to.

At the time, I wondered who would want to purchase purple.com for such a price and what that matress company was up to. If I knew more about american matress companies, I might have realised one key fact. There's one called Purple. Of course a matress company called Purple would pay anything to get purple.com. And putting an ad up on it is a clever move for a competitor.

You know how this tale ends. Purple matresses now owns Purple.com. The old purple.com is gone.

Purple.com always meant something to me, and I think I now know what it was. Purple.com wasn't special for being purple, or being a simple website whose content you can guess based on its domain name; those things still live on in other sites. But purple.com felt special for being, well, purple.com. A one-word domain name. Purple.com represented the last remnants of an internet where you could just type an english word into the address bar with a .com at the end, and get something interesting that usually wasn't porn. It was an internet where everybody had a cool, short domain name. Nowadays we're all too scared to type in random domain names. "Don't click untrusted links" and "Check website names carefully" is standard advice, and for good reason. The modern web is a scary place, I guess because everybody's on it.

There still do exist simple websites with cool domain names, yes. hasthelargehadroncolliderdestroyedtheworldyet.com is a classic of self-describing pages, even if the name is a little unwieldy. Purple.com had its offshoots that still exist: notpurple.com and sometimesredsometimesblue.com. Now that it's gone, theoldpurple.com exists as a replacement, and isoldpurple.com is a digital gravestone by the site's original owner. And x.com is as simple as it gets, but it's owned by Elon Musk which definitely makes it much less cool. I'm sure that there exist a few more simple domains out there, but I'm too frightened to start trying out english words to find any. Let me know if you know of them.

But nothing will ever be as purple as purple.com.

Gemini

I suppose this is the bit where I point out how this is relevant to the Gemini project. Gemini does restore some of the magic of the internet to me, being a place where you can just explore and find things, without every site being owned by a corporation seeking to make money. But it's built on the old DNS system, so you've got to explore with links. Honestly, I can understand why it's this way. Rebuilding DNS sounds hard, and is probably a bit out of scope for a project that's just an alternate way to serve content. Plus, any new attempt at that nowadays will inevitably use cryptocurrency somehow, and that just turns people away - I'm here because Gemini *isn't* Urbit. But part of me still wants a new system for domain names, if only so that I could be an early adopter and get a cool domain name this time. I guess that's selfish of me.

Purple.com was cool because it was rare. You can't recreate that. We can only look forward, and take advantage of new opportunities to make cool, rare things as they come. I look forward to the future of Gemini, and the future of the internet, whatever that looks like. I hope it's more purple.

^