One man's struggle to turn domain names into real estate

| September 14, 2000

Jay White is big and bear-like and has the carriage of someone who works hard for a living. In conversation, he cites science fiction novels, and he wields computer acronyms like a high-tech warrior. His fingertips are stained. When he talks to you, you can see yourself in his glasses.

White has been homeless since May, when three different events—events, he says, “no one out there cares about”—converged to turn him from a part-time web page technician into a man who has had to rely entirely on luck and kindness to survive. He does not panhandle. He finds pick-up work when he can (last week he helped a man move a piano for $10), and he lives out of the 125-pound backpack that holds most of his belongings. But hopefully not for long. He’s still got a couple of things that he thinks may turn things around.

“I’ve had them for about two years, and really, this wasn’t my intention when I got them,” White says. “But I don’t want to sleep outside this winter.”

The things he’s talking about, those keys that he hopes will release him from this bind he’s in, are Internet domain names. A little less than two years ago, when White was still web-borne, he registered two domain names— and—which he planned on using for himself. But now, he wants to trade in those two big tracts of cyberspace for a bit of real estate.

“I need a place to live, so if someone said, ‘You can stay in some place for 10 or 12 months without rent,’ then they can have these domain names,” White says. It’s an earnest offer, he adds, and there’s ample reason to believe he means it. Three weeks ago, White tendered his first bid in public, papering downtown with dozens of Day-Glo flyers that outlined his plan. “Do you love Montana, the Big Sky Country?” one of them reads. “So do I! But I need a place to live, so I’ll trade for a paid lease on your property.” At the bottom, there’s an e-mail address. He uses public terminals, mainly in libraries, to check his messages. But so far, he has not gotten any response, save for a complaint that his postings were litter. Still, White says, the offer stands, and is flexible.

“It’s hard to put a value on things like that,” he says of his cybernetic holdings. “It’s whatever the market will bear. I don’t want to sound like a motivated seller, but I’m looking to get inside soon.” For what it’s worth, White notes, he’s dong this here for a reason. “I was born in Missoula and I’ve lived here four or five different times over the years,” he says. “It’s my hometown, and I really love Missoula. It’s the coolest town on the face of the earth.”

If you want to take him up on his offer, you can reach Jay White at or But until he can arrange a trade, in at least those two domains, White is still lord of the manor.

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