Jokes, Jeers in a Look Back at 25 Years of .Com

SAN FRANCISCO — The year was 1985. Think Larry Bird driving to the hoop in those skimpy basketball shorts, Madonna’s “Virgin” tour, and using a dial-up modem to connect to your favorite bulletin board system (BBS). It was also the year a computer manufacturer named Symbolics registered the first .com Web domain address.

The 25th anniversary of the first .com was actually this past March when it was noted at several events. But VeriSign (NASDAQ: VRSN), the long-time operator of the .com domain, sponsored a special event here Wednesday night in the elegant ballroom of San Francisco City Hall to honor a list of 25 key pioneering .com companies, executives and other notables. Executives from many of the big Internet registrars were also on hand.

The event was co-moderated by comedian Dana Carvey and Sun co-founder Scott McNealy, the latter of whom drew sustained laughs for his list of “reasons I’m a bit surprised we’re celebrating the Internet.”

McNealy’s list included:

  1. Craigslist, for getting Tiger Woods, Elliot Spitzer and most of Congress in trouble.
  2. Facebook, “for ensuring that anyone under 20 is never employable.”
  3. “There’s no privacy, get over it” (this got some laughs from those in audience who remembered it as a widely-reported quote by McNealy from 1999).
  4. Twitter, which shows “there should be a limit to free speech.”
  5. “Sexting”
  6. “The Internet can’t be important because Larry Ellison hasn’t bought it yet.”
  7. Chat Roulette
  8. “Waiting for my new Nigerian friend to send me the $25 million.”
  9. “Obama raised his money using the Internet.” In response to a few hisses, McNealy said, “I knew that one wouldn’t go over well here.”
  10. “Before the Internet, I never knew I had a ‘size’ problem.”

McNealy also admitted to the audience he knew he might not be as funny as co-moderator Carvey, but that he also wasn’t being paid.

“I haven’t made any money since I was fired from Oracle,” McNealy quipped, a reference to his departure from the company in the wake of Oracle’s (NASDAQ: ORCL) purchase of Sun Microsystems that also resulted in the departure of Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz.

Carvey, meanwhile, started out the event by asking the audience of tech execs, “How many of you out there are worth at least a billion?” When he got no-show of hands, Carvey warned that that he had “tweeted and wikipediaed all of you and made you my Facebook friends.”

The comedian also proudly announced that he owned, but it hadn’t been easy to get.

“Turned out a guy in Florida owned the name and when I called him, he was like ‘How do I know it’s really you?’ So had to do a bunch of impressions to convince him.” Carvey then transitioned to a few of his classic impressions including the first President Bush and California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Honoring Net luminaries

VeriSign said it awarded the top 25 .com honorees after a lengthy selection process that relied on a panel of judges that included business, media, academic and policy leaders.

Some of the 25 winners, including McNealy and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, were at the event. The complete list of winning companies and key executives follows in alphabetical order:

AOL (Steve Case); Alibaba Group; Amazon (Jeff Bezos); Andy Grove; Apple (Steve Jobs); Baidu; Cisco (John Chambers); Craigslist (Craig Newmark); eBay (Pierre Omidyar); eTrade; Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg); Google (Larry Page & Sergey Brin); Infosys; Jim Clark; Microsoft/MSN/Gates Foundation (Bill Gates); MySpace; Napster (Shawn Fanning); Netscape (Marc Andreessen); Paypal; Sun Microsystems, Inc. (Scott McNealy); Tim Berners-Lee; Twitter; Vint Cerf; Yahoo, (Jerry Yang and David Filo); YouTube.

Infrastructure grants and a contest

In keeping with the spirit of celebrating the Internet’s early champions and success stories, VeriSign also announced a grant program it said is designed to promote and foster new research to strengthen the Net’s infrastructure.

VeriSign said it will fund four $75,000 research grants, which will be awarded this fall.

The recipients will present their findings at a Washington, D.C., symposium in June 2011. More information on the grants program is available here.

VeriSign also announced a “How do you .com?” contest. Participation requires you to share a share a personal story about how a .com Web site changed your life.

Grand prize is $10,000 — or “about $3,500 after taxes,” quipped Carvey — and there are several runner-up prizes. More details are available at a new “” Web site.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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