Update: Domain Pain: TechCrunch.fr, For All Your Cloud-Storage Needs?


We all know about the trials and tribulations of holding on to domain names around particular brands, but here’s an example of a curious blip for one of the biggest blogs around focused on the business of technology and the internet, and one that seems timely to point out on the eve of one of the bigger tech conferences on the fall calendar, Le Web in Paris: the domain name TechCrunch.fr does not belong to AOL (NYSE: AOL), TechCrunch’s owner.

To read TechCrunch France, a user needs to point a browser to http://fr.techcrunch.com — just as someone looking for TechCrunch Europe goes to http://eu.techcrunch.com.

But if a user makes what seems like an easy assumption and types in techcrunch.fr, he gets redirected to another site, Docs.fr. There, users have the option to enter their names in an invitation list for what looks like a cloud-based storage service that is launching soon. But if you click on the “statistics” at the bottom of the page, it looks more like a database that the owners of docs.fr are looking to sell:

“DOCS is more than a brand, it’s a business waiting to happen,” it says, listing some stats about the site that include the visitor numbers (50,000 visits between September and October), other webnames redirecting here (14 premium webnames direct to the site); its stickiness on searches (11 million searches) — and perhaps more alarmingly, the number of email addresses that it has amassed in its database (500,000 registered users).

The existence of the site was pointed out earlier today by Ouriel Ohayon, who is a VC, the co-founder of apps discovery engine Apps Fire, and once the lead writer and editor for TechCrunch in France.

He told me that he once registered the domain way back he was working for TechCrunch, but he hasn’t been with blog for over two years now, and so he didn’t follow what happened to it after that.

In the meantime, I reached out to Docs.fr through the contact details on the site, and my email got redirected to an individual, Max Guerin, who said he registered the domain several years ago.

The world of domain names is an inconsistent game, with both willing and unwitting squatters playing along with legitimate people and businesses trying to get a grip on their cyber identities. TechCrunch certainly isn’t the only site with a global presence that does not have control over the many regional domain name variations that can exist for their brand.

Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), for example, owns Apple.fr (which redirects to Apple.com/fr) but if you type in Apple.co.uk, you go to an illustration site. Like Apple, the TechCrunch.fr misfire is definitely one of the more ironic of them all.

We have contacted AOL for some insight and will update this as and if we learn more, and have also asked Guerin if he could provide more details about the site or its function.

Update: Guerin has responded. He notes that he has been approached by media companies to buy the domain, but he has not responded to those requests but that AOL and TechCrunch showed “no interest whatsoever.”

He admits that using the TechCrunch name has helped with getting traffic for his own DOCS site, although of course the two are very different beasts. DOCS, he says, will combine document sharing with social and mobile elements. The plan with DOCS is to launch it next year, and it is currently looking for investors.

“We place ourselves between Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Docs and Scribd but with a more ‘user-centric’ aspect,” he says, adding a very TechCrunch flourish to the pitch: “You can call
it the ‘Instagram of document sharing.'”

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