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Million dollar home page woes

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Tuesday January 17, 2006 )

Regardless of some of the criticism I’ve read, I greatly admire Alex Tew, the brains behind the concept of the Million Dollar Homepage. I think even people in outer Timbuktu have probably heard of this site by now, but in case you haven’t, Alex, a Business Management student, aimed to make one million dollars by selling pixel space on the home page of his site.

The buzz that he generated with the novelty value of the concept ensured that he reached his goal within a very short time. The site was launched on Friday 26th Aug 2005 and all pixels were sold by Tuesday 10th January 2006.

Alex has now become the target of a DDOS attack (Distributed Denial of Service) . A DoS attack usually consists of using software to flood a server with requests for pages from a particular site, effectively bringing the server hosting that site to a halt. A DDoS attack, is the same principle, but using many compromised machines, called “zombies”.

In the case of the attack on Alex’s site, I’ve seen estimates that up to 100,000 zombie machines are involved. The owner of “zombie” machines are usually unaware that their machine is participating in the attack. If perpetrated by skilled parties, a DDOS attack can be terribly difficult to trace.

Alex’s hosting service has been fending off the attacks on his behalf, but as pointed out on Antone Gonsalves’ blog – this kind of protection is not cheap.

Why is Alex being targeted? That’s not certain as yet as Alex isn’t communicating, but it could be a couple of reasons.

a) Pure sour grapes – many would be very jealous of Alex’s success. A number of copycat sites have emerged, but in my opinion, the vast majority will fail as this is one of those ideas that is probably a once only money spinner. Alex got the attention, and I assume the lions’ share of any bucks – some of the bigger advertisers on Alex’s page want to be noticed and the media coverage he’s been getting has assured them of that. By the way, I’m not suggesting that a copycat site is behind this DDOS attack; it’s just an illustration of the impact that The Million Dollar Homepage has had. With fame comes enemies; a sad comment on our species generally.

b) Extortion. A more likely reason. Nothing new here unfortunately; there are gangs cruising the Internet looking for sites that appear to generate a good income. They approach the site owners and give them X time to pay X bucks. If the owner refuses to pay – bam; DDOS. For some sites, even to be offline for a few hours can mean losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So, where’s the problem, after all, Alex has got his money?

True, but in the FAQ on Alex’s site, it states that he will keep the home page online for at least 5 years. I haven’t read the terms and condtions of purchase closely, but this could mean that he does have a responsibility to his advertisers. If the site was down for long enough, perhaps refunds may be demanded. Some advertisers have paid nearly $40,000 for ad space.

So, you have a brilliant young guy who had a very simple idea and will probably have a great career in marketing; then you have the equally brilliant, if twisted, genius of the opportunistic parasites who seek to bring him down with what is also a relatively simple strategy.

Who will win? I have no idea; but I do wish Alex all the best with stopping the perpetrators and keeping his cash – and kudos to his hosting service for providing a short term solution.

Regardless of how hard Alex did/didn’t have to work to make his million; he had the idea, he executed the idea and he’s reaped the rewards of thinking outside the box. Good luck to him – Alex is an excellent example to all of us involved with marketing.

BTW, the site is operating now, albeit slowly. Alex’s blog is well worthwhile reading, it provides some interesting marketing related insights.

Relatedanti-hacking tips for home-based online business.


Jan 19 – It appears that there is confirmation that Alex was indeed the victim of an extortion attempt. The Financial Times reports that Alex was sent an email that stated, “”Hello u website is under us atack to stop the DDoS send us 50000$.”

Sigh, these idiots that carry out the attacks can’t even write a good extortion note. Still, just because they don’t have a decent grasp of English doesn’t make them any less a threat. Parasites. I wonder if they’ve ever considered using their skills to make an honest dollar.


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