After owning a choice piece of cyberspace for the past two decades, Michael Baer sold Internet.org to a domain-name broker earlier this year to help fund his online startup. Last week, he was surprised to find out that the new owner of the Web address is a group that includes Mark Zuckerberg.
"When Mark was, like, 9, I first registered that domain," Bauer said in an interview. "He was still in elementary school, I'm pretty sure."
The Facebook CEO, 29, is now grown-up and tackling a big challenge with Internet.org, which is an organization comprised of tech industry giants including Samsung Electronics, Nokia and Qualcomm. The mission? To connect the 5 billion or so people in the world who still don't have online access. It's not the only effort to expand the Web's reach -- Google wants to use balloons equipped with Wi-Fi -- but what's notable is the group's prominent, well-resourced participants.
Bauer had similar hopes for his Internet.org. Before Zuckerberg came along, Web surfers would have found the site promoting ubiquitous access to information, as well as opposition to government and corporate censorship of the Net. But Bauer, who helped develop MapQuest as well as the technology that underpins Google's chat service within Gmail, is no Zuckerberg.
"When you have those kinds of resources at your fingertips, lots more possibilities come to mind," Bauer said. "It seems like it's in a better place now. It was always something that demanded a project like this. I couldn't get the wherewithal to call up Nokia, and say, 'Hey, guys, I've got this great idea. Let's pony up a bunch of money.'"
While Bauer made a profit off of Internet.org after getting it for free, it was an "insignificant amount" that was far less than $1 million, he said. Still, the sale provided a bit more fuel for his two-person Denver startup Brilliant Arc, which makes Facebook-connected software for small businesses.