TL;DR: ericcheng.com was too expensive and I didn’t want a used domain.
Before I built this website, I had to think about which domain name I would pick.
This decision was not very straightforward. I knew I wanted a .com domain as close as possible to my name, Eric Cheng. But the issue is that Eric Cheng is a fairly common name, and there’s a surprisingly disproportionate number of people named Eric Cheng already on the internet.
I spent a while checking various permutations of eric, cheng, .com, and some wildcard characters. Here are some of the interesting websites I found along the way.
eric.com was a weird but charming Internet monument dedicated to notable Erics. From what I can gather from ICANN and the Internet Archive, a man named Eric Elgar purchased the domain in 1994. We can even see how it looked as early as 1996.
The website remained practically unchanged from 2000 to 2020, and quietly went offline at some point in early 2020. Today, eric.com is listed for sale.
It’s sad to see zany old websites like eric.com suddenly vanish. Websites like these make me feel nostalgic for an era of a simpler Internet that I can only faintly remember as a zoomer — a time before I understood how search engines worked and I discovered websites by typing random URLs into Internet Explorer.
cheng.com was registered by an MIT student or faculty member in 1995. It was an academic directory before becoming a redirect to a family’s photo album. Then the website metamorphosed into its ultimate form: a broken link which still stands to this day.
I knew the odds of securing eric.com or cheng.com was practically zero. It still felt good to be an Internet archaeologist.
ericcheng.com was a mysterious blank page. Today, it still remains a blank page.
But the plot thickens. If you visit Google Domains, you actually can buy ericcheng.com for the absolute bargain bin price of $3,150 + $12/year. GoDaddy charges a few hundred more for some reason.
Seeing ericcheng.com was available for such a steep price prompted a number of questions in my mind.
Why is it so expensive?
What happened to the owner?
What was the website for originally?
Would somebody ever buy it in the future?
Although we may never know the true answer to these questions, and although ericcheng.com is still a blank page, we can still piece some information together. An archived version of ericcheng.com reveals that it was once a family photo album, presumably of a man named Eric Cheng living in Hong Kong.
I was originally frustrated to see that ericcheng.com was practically unavailable. I even contemplated if the high price was worth it, since it meant securing a domain that I could potentially use for decades. If the Internet was still running on URLs for another 50 years, then I could probably justify this temptation by mentally amortizing the cost over the course of half a century. But then I changed my mind for two main reasons.
It just didn’t feel right. ericcheng.com once belonged to another Eric Cheng. If I were to buy it and point the domain name to my own website, I would be paving over this guy’s legacy. Even if ericcheng.com is just a blank white screen today, the mystery of it still makes you briefly wonder about the owner.
Buying a personal domain name such as ericcheng.com isn’t like passing a baton from one Eric Cheng to the next. The Internet doesn’t work like that. When a restaurant, a factory, or a shopping mall is renovated or even outright abandoned, you can still somewhat recognize the appearance of the building as it once stood and guess at its original function. But websites are much more impermanent; when they are renovated or abandoned, the original is gone for good.
If I bought ericcheng.com, you would have to dive into the Internet Archive to discover the domain was not mine originally. And Internet Archive isn’t perfect; it’s often unable to retrieve the complete version of a past website. Of course, domain names can’t be perpetually tied to an individual, but there were plenty of other domain names that I could instead select to spare this guy from being wiped completely.
>$3,000 is way beyond what a student should spend on their personal domain name.
With the obvious candidates unavailable or eliminated, I continued my search. I discovered more modern websites owned by other people named Eric Cheng.
With great interest, I noted the domain name that each Eric picked.1 With great fascination, I learned a bit about each Eric’s life. Some were engineers, some were artists, some were deeply interested in photography, but everybody used their website to discuss their skills and lives. I felt like I was looking at alternate versions of myself.
Eventually, I found that chengeric.com was available and completely unused. The swapped order of my first and last names could be interpreted as just a little quirk, or a nod towards my Asian background. I bought the domain in 2018 and have made chengeric.com my corner of the Internet since.
Whenever I find a new Eric Cheng website sprouting out of search engine obscurity, I add it to the honorable mentions list on this website. I’ve been doing this since 2019. Sometimes I wonder how long I’ll continue.
What gives me encouragement and amusement is knowing that every new Eric Cheng seeking to buy his own domain name begins by first discovering how expensive ericcheng.com is. His journey will be incrementally more difficult than that of the previous Eric Cheng as fewer domains are now available. He will perhaps wonder the same things and contemplate the same choices as me.
It is truly an unspoken solidarity spanning land, time, but not name.
Thanks for stopping by my corner of the internet today, weary traveler. Feel free to rest here before you venture to the other Eric Cheng websites.
Regrettably, some of the modern Eric Chengs purchased domains names that once belonged to other Eric Chengs twenty or so years ago. I won’t judge them for it — finding a domain name is ultimately a personal decision and isn’t easy. However, this makes it very hard to count all the unique Eric Chengs that have ever had their own domain name.