Thomas Park: The Museum-loving Tech Blogger Talks About Domains and Startups

To me, Thomas Park is the epitome of a liberal arts major in the tech blogger world: offering a strong and well-informed perspective on technology and the internet, he never fails to grab your attention with a personal touch. From original research to exploring somewhat unconventional topics, you are bound to be intrigued by his soon-to-be one year old blog, where he writes about different facets of web development and user experience design.

A PhD student at Drexel University, Thomas is interested in human-computer interaction, particularly how the web can support new ways of learning. Before Drexel, he worked in the online education department at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.

Thomas recently did an informal study in order to examine which domain names start-ups opt for most frequently, and .me came in fourth place, behind .org, .net and .com. This finding, along with his engaging writing covering a wide range of topics, was the perfect motive for an interview with this promising blogger:

What got you into blogging? What do you like about it the most? What are some of the challenges in being a doctoral student and a (fairly regular) blogger?

Like a lot of people, I constantly kick ideas around in my head. Ideas that start with phrases like “I wonder if…” or “Wouldn’t it be cool…” Some relate to my main line of work, and others are out in left field. One day not too long ago, I decided to start a blog to record some of these questions and even go some ways toward answering them. I’ve found that this act of writing stretches your ideas in new and unexpected ways.

What I like most about blogging is the social aspect. Some of my posts are pretty niche, but even if one in a million people find it interesting, on the web, that comes out to something. When a post strikes a chord with a new audience, that’s gratifying.

The challenges of blogging as a doctoral student are not that different from what other people face. Anyone who’s tried to blog can tell you how hard it is to sustain, especially with so many other things competing for your time and attention. While everyone can benefit from blogging, I think it’s especially important for doctoral students and scholars in general. The web is where people get their information today, so blogs are a great way for academics to connect with the broader public about their research.

You recently wrote a blog post that places the .me domain in the fourth place for startups, right behind .org as well as .net and .com, which continues to dominate the field. Were the results at all surprising, and if so, how?

First of all, congratulations on the result! My sense is that alternative TLDs are gaining legitimacy. Fewer .coms are available, so more high profile sites seem to be getting creative with their domain names, and people seem more aware that URLs don’t have to begin with www and end with .com. Among alternative TLDs, the ones that have become popular in recent years are in line with my expectations. With that said, it surprised me just how dominant .com continues to be.

Would you like to expand this study in any way, and if so, how? If not, what are some of the things to keep an eye out for in the gTLD / ccTLD world?

The study focused on startups because it was inspired by my own difficulties naming a project and finding a domain for it. But the startup world isn’t representative of the web as a whole, and TLD trends could be quite different depending on the community. It would be interesting to compare startups with something like personal homepages, especially for .me which is suited well to both. Using a different dataset could also allow us to look further back in time and better understand the historical context.

One thing to keep an eye on is how the breakdown of alternative TLDs continues to change. It’s conventional wisdom that .com is A-list, .net and .org are B-list, and the rest are C-list. But I believe the gap between B- and C-listers is closing.

It’s worth noting that many of the alternative TLDs with traction are ccTLDs that have been repurposed. At the same time, “designed” gTLDs like .biz and .mobi haven’t seen the level of success that ICANN has hoped for. If ICANN opens up a hundred new gTLDs, as some are speculating, it’ll be interesting to see how they do and what impact they have on the web.

What did you find most appealing when purchasing your .me domain?

That it was available! Anyone with a common name can tell you how difficult it is to grab your domain or username of choice. But .me was available. And it’s short, it’s fitting, and as we found out, it’s on the upswing.

Since you registered, how did your view on .me change, if it changed at all? What do you think are some new and potentially exciting benefits to acquiring a .me domain?

Since it’s a personal blog, I wanted the domain to include my name, and I was able to accomplish that with .me. I imagine that a lot of people find themselves in a similar situation. It’s important to keep in mind that if you’re putting out thoughtful content on a consistent basis, people will find you on whichever domain you choose. So you shouldn’t let the unavailability of one domain distract you from what you really want to accomplish. In the startup world, companies have integrated .me into their identities, being a prime example.

There is a visible and very strong intersection in your writing between technology and language – such as your Starcraft Collective blogpost. Besides the internet and technology, what do you like writing about? What’s important to keep in mind when writing about these two topics?

A couple of years ago, Marco Arment wrote about the pressures of pigeonholing oneself as a tech blogger, how he’s resisted that and gone on to talk endlessly about coffee and even pillowcasing strategies. I’ve taken a similar route with my blog. It might seem like a mishmash of topics from one point of view, but that’s because it’s a personal outlet for whatever is grabbing my interest at the moment.

I don’t have a linguistics background, but I do find myself gravitating towards language. A lot of what’s fascinating about studying technology is also true of it. Language simultaneously shapes our culture and is a reflection of it. The present form of language holds clues to its past. And language is fun to play with.

With a growing share of our activity mediated through the web, and many tools at our disposal, it’s easier than ever to pose questions about technology, language, people, whatever, and be able to answer them for yourself, from the comfort of your laptop. And that’s what I enjoy doing, collecting intriguing data and trying to make sense of it.

Besides blogging, what are some of your other pastimes?

A project I’m currently working on is Bootswatch. Right now, there are a lot of websites being built with Bootstrap, a wonderful framework by the folks at Twitter. But with all of these websites relying on the same framework, many end up with a uniform look. So I put together a library of what I call swatches, that people can download for free and simply drop into their Bootstrap site to get a more distinctive look.

Away from the computer, I enjoy visiting the kooky museums and conventions that you can find in Philadelphia. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, I recommend the Mutter Museum.

And so the Mutter Museum in Philly became an item on my “To do” list – as well as checking out Bootswatch! Besides his blog, you can keep up with Thomas and his coverage of tech topics on his Twitter; just be sure to keep an eye out on this future PhD graduate.


Masa Djikanovic

A Community Manager at the .ME Registry, Maša holds a B.A. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences and Spanish from Wellesley College, and has spent a semester in Argentina drinking mate and writing essays on human rights. Prior to joining the .ME team, she worked for the Montenegrin government, but unfortunately never got to be President. Favorite things include traveling, chocolate, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and xkcd.

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