A funny thing happened to Sanmay Ved, MBA’16, early one Tuesday last fall. At precisely 1:20 a.m., for one weird, wild, improbable minute, he owned the most popular website in the world. And all it cost was $12.
The implausible happened when Ved was indulging in what tech folks call dogfooding, or the testing of new products. It’s a hobby of his. “I love dogfooding,” says Ved, who originally hails from Mandvi, a small city in western India. “I love trying new products out.” The night owl was staying up late, as he often does, and checking out Google Domains, a new site that allows users to register domain names. For 5 1/2 years, Ved worked at Google in the Indian city of Hyderabad, and he remains a fan of the company, keeping tabs on its latest developments. “I love Google,” he says. “It’s a nice place to work. They take good care of you.”
To test out Google Domains, Ved decided to enter a domain name. “What’s the first domain that comes to mind?” he asks. “Google.com.” So on a lark he typed it in, and, surprisingly, it was available for purchase. Obviously this was a mistake, he thought, one that would surely correct itself. Just to see what would happen, Ved next added the domain to his shopping cart. He assumed Google Domains wouldn’t allow that to happen, but it did.
Finally, Ved proceeded to checkout. The website certainly would stop this now, he mused. Of course it wouldn’t let the purchase continue. But that’s exactly what happened. Ved bought Google.com, and he received notification that his credit card had been charged. “Did I do what I think I just did?” he wondered. He then went to a separate Google site, Google Search Console, which allows domain owners to check the status and visibility of their websites, and it showed that he was indeed the owner and gave him access to the domain.
Ved didn’t have much time to dream up what he was going to do with Google.com. After about a minute, he received an order cancellation from Google. Just like that, his unexpected ride at the top of Google.com was over. Ved alerted Google to what had happened, and they offered him a reward for what he had discovered. He turned them down, but then Google insisted. “It was never about the money,” Ved says. “I don’t want any money.” So Ved asked that the reward be donated to a favorite charity of his, The Art of Living Foundation in India, which provides free education to poor Indian children, and Google not only agreed but also doubled the amount. (Ved declined to discuss how much.)
Ved’s unusual one-minute purchase also brought him notoriety. In the past, he had found other glitches on Google sites but never discussed them. This time he decided to share his story with his LinkedIn connections. But then they started sharing his post, and word spread until Business Insider contacted him for an interview, which he granted. Then the story really took off as dozens of other media outlets picked it up. Students stopped him on campus, and he heard from lawyers, who claimed he had a case against Google, and from many additional journalists seeking interviews. “I was getting requests left and right,” he says. “I lost count of how many.” Not interested in any further publicity, Ved only granted two more interviews: to his hometown newspaper and Babson Magazine.
After a few weeks, the attention finally faded away, leaving Ved amused by everything that had happened after one late night on his computer. “I doubt something like this will happen to me again,” he says.—John Crawford