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August 15, 2003
FARMER FEEDS THE WORLD WITH DOMAIN DATA: 
THE DWAYNE ROWLAND & EXODY STORY

By Ron Jackson
Editor/Publisher

150 miles southeast of Atlanta there is a little village that time forgot. Just over 400 people live in Dexter, Georgia. It’s about as far from civilization as you can get, unless you venture out of town and into the wooded swampland along the Stitchihatchie Creek.  



Dwayne Rowland
Exody.com 

That trail leads to a 64-acre former hog farm populated with a remarkable animal menagerie. There’s a mule, two horses, three goats, three dogs, too many cats to count, chickens and peacocks…and that’s counting only the domestic animals! No telling what kind of wildlife is running loose on the 90% of the property taken up by a vast beaver swamp. They say it’s great hunting land and there is surely no reason to doubt that.

The folks who own the farm, Dwayne and Deborah Rowland, grow peas, corn, beans, okra, tomatoes and squash among other things. People in the area come out and pick their own vegetables right out of the field. With the exception of the unlicensed zoo, the farm is just like a lot of others in the area, including the 150-acre spread Dwayne’s dad has next door.

Well, there is ONE thing that’s a little different about Dwayne’s place – the banks of state-of-the-art computer equipment with high speed internet connections whirring at full speed 24 hours a day. You see the real cash crop on the Rowland farm is information. Customers all over the world have come to depend on the data these computers in the south Georgia swampland are spitting out for Exody.com.  

Somehow this just does not compute. You expect to see bales of hay in these parts, not rows of high tech gear built from the ground up and presided over by a 56-year-old farmer in bib overalls. Obviously there is a lot more to Dwayne Rowland than meets the eye. 

On April 22, 1946, less than a year after the end of World War II, Dwayne Rowland was born in Gunnison, Utah, part of the initial wave of newborns that would form the Baby Boom Generation. During the Great Depression, Dwayne’s dad Taylor, like thousands of other young men across America, joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, a government program designed to put people back to work and get the country back on its feet again. Working for the CCC took the elder Rowland far from his Georgia home, but paid an unexpected dividend when he met and married Geraldine Christensen in Utah.  

Taylor left to join the Navy when the war broke out but as soon as it was over he was back in Utah helping bring his new baby boy into the world. By 1949, the old family farm back in Georgia needed help, so Taylor and Geraldine packed their belongings and 3-year-old Dwayne into the family car and made the long drive back to Dexter. 

While growing up on the farm, Dwayne developed an unusual interest in some new fangled contraptions most people had never heard of. They were called computers. In 1967, he headed off to the big city – Atlanta - to take a computer programming class at Georgia Tech. It would be almost 25 years before he would live on the old homestead again. 

Rowland studied the Algol language at GTU and learned it well enough to land his first job with the NCR Corporation. They put him through additional training in NEAT III Assembly and Cobol. As new languages and operating systems were developed, Rowland made it a point to learn those too. At the same time, he taught himself to build computers by reading Peter Norton’s books (Rowland would later become an author himself, writing and marketing a dis-assembler for Intel 8086 in 1988 called Askii-WorX). 

Though he learned a lot at NCR, the company underused his skills, assigning Rowland a job installing accounting machines. In 1970 he moved on to The Harrison Company, a law book publisher that hired Rowland to run their computer department. He wrote typesetting programs that inserted proper hyphenation and ran a spell checker years before that term was even invented. In that prehistoric era, Rowland was writing programs for systems that ran on vacuum tubes!  

Rowland soon decided to go into business for himself and he carved out a nice career programming and selling ONYX small business systems and personal computers. As if those early Atlanta years weren’t busy enough, Dwayne started his own family too, marrying his first wife Dee and producing two sons – Taylor (named after grandpa and now 34 years old) and Darwyn (now 32).  

Like father like son – Taylor and Darwyn loved computers too. After high school they both worked with PCs in college, Darwyn at Georgia’s DeKalb College and Taylor at Utah’s Weber State University. Both schools were part of the new Education network and that allowed Dwayne and the boys to use their modems to chat Telnet style over the network IRC.  

Taylor and Darwyn had ringside seats when the internet sprang to life and they were the first to introduce the wonders of the new communications medium to their dad. Rowland says “When I saw the internet, that’s when I knew the information age had arrived.” 

Realizing that he could now work anywhere he wished, Rowland exercised an option to buy a big piece of the family farm and moved back to Dexter in 1990. He quickly set up shop on the net with a series of small ventures. His first big break came when he landed a contract to track the movement of railcars for large companies. He wrote a program to fully automate the process and made the reports available to his clients over the internet. 

Meanwhile, back in Atlanta Darwyn had gone to work for Hewlett-Packard, then moved on to Clever Computer. Part of his job there involved registering domain names. When Dwayne heard about that, he was hooked. “I was very interested in the idea that one could OWN a domain name”, Rowland said. “I started registering a few in 1997. Most of the really good ones had been registered by then, but at the same time some people were letting excellent names expire.” 

Prescient as always, Rowland took an immediate interest in two and three character domains as well as one-word dictionary names. “I discovered along with a handful of others the golden hour for domain drops. I was able to register 30 two-character names along with a few other choice domains.” Rowland recalls. 

“My son Darwyn actually provided a service to chase names on a fee basis and we had various partners and arrangements, most of which turned out to be less than desirable. I decided to go public with the soon-to-expire listings that were being processed for an exclusive partner at the time,” Rowland said. With that move Exody was born. The name (registered in December 1999) means “to withdraw from”, a perfect name considering that the information customers withdraw from the Exody lists can be as valuable as gold nuggets. 

Of course, like all new companies, Exody had its growing pains. “It was very difficult to keep up with all the constant changes, but we kept on plowing and now the constant changes are just the norm and we plan for them” Rowland said. “We started out with just a hand full of customers and continued to deliver everything we could as fast as we could. We used IP addresses from accounts Darwyn had on IRC servers and other machines to collect our data. It took a lot of resources.”  

There was one mistake that towered over all of the others. “We sent out a spam mailing to 30,000 recently registered domain owners. We got ten new customers but had to explain to the other 29,990 why we sent spam they didn't want! The complaints rolled in and our service provider almost turned our lights out!” Still Rowland found a silver lining in that cloud. “I'll never do that again, but it did double our customer base to twenty!” After that bump in the road, it was off to the races as customers worldwide came to understand the value of the Exody lists.  

Of course success always draws imitators and it wasn’t long before others were trying to draft off Exody’s tail wind. “We heard from our customers that some larger sites were using our lists without permission. So, we seeded the lists with phony names and these names were in fact showing up all over the internet,” Rowland said. “Our customers could see clearly who was stealing what from whom. We continue to seed and encode our lists and monitor the seeds through searches at other sites.” 

The sheer volume of information Exody generates can be overwhelming to new customers. “I'm sometimes baffled by the volume of information we produce myself”, Rowland chuckles. “The Exody lists have evolved over years of domain system changes. We tried to change the file names assigned to our lists (to make them easier to understand) but wound up having a small revolt on our hands. Our customers liked it the way it was so that's the way it's going to stay!” 

The names are inscrutable to newcomers, but Rowland offers a good summary. “Getgo is for soon-to-expire names, nowgo for expired and available to register, zday for daily deactivated and zmon for names on hold.”  

Rowland adds, “We now have the new RGP "Redemption Grace Period" list and rehgo for those on registrar hold. We also moved into the "pre deactivation" area by listing all registered names with registrar expiration dates in the reggo files. 

Rowland avoids spelling everything out on the site on purpose. “We have many search options and listings that produce results our customers use for their own special needs. We don't really go into how to use most of the information because that could reveal someone’s niche area. Customers take exception to us laying out something they have learned over several years time.” Rowland adds “You may not be told everything that’s going on, but again you may just find out something nobody else knows!” 

As you would expect, this unending flow of data requires some heavy duty hardware to keep things humming. “We use multiple computers and lots of IP addresses in multiple locations. These systems are having to FTP data back and forth continuously. We use FreeBSD with standard Intel based hardware and build all our own systems,” Rowland said. “We ran one server over a year non-stop and only powered it off to move to a new colo site.” 

Though Exody data requires constant updating throughout the day and night, Rowland is not enslaved by the company he created. “All our lists are fully automated and sent out. If something goes wrong we get an email from someone asking us to check it out. I also have programs that check programs. It does take a lot of time to build these systems, but if they are built right they just keep running.”  

You would think that with all of this information constantly at his fingertips (and being a confessed domain name fan himself) Rowland would constantly be using his data to score more domains for himself. However that is not the case. “For the most part my domains were registered prior to the Exody.com business.” Rowland said. “I do register a few names now and then. However, we set a policy years ago that all lists would be sent to our customers before we even looked at them. That policy is still in effect and when I register names it is usually hours after the drop. For the most part we simply provide the data services.” 

Besides, Rowland has some new interests in his life to keep his mind off registering domain names. “I enjoy riding ATVs. It's the closest thing to horse back riding without the horse. Also farming and metalworking are now a big part of our daily life. We want to get into the light manufacturing of small aluminum trailers for ATV use and other recreational areas,” Rowland said. “It's time to have some fun doing something outdoors. When you face a computer 24 hours a day it's time to turn on the welding machine!” 

Rowland adds “Maybe we have gone about it backwards by registering a domain and then creating a business to fit it, but that's what we did with Exody and now MetalWare.com, Wheeled.com and others. I believe that many domain holders are doing the same thing and that's really great!” 

Just because he has some outside interests doesn’t mean Rowland is taking his eye off the domain ball though. The looming specter of Verisign’s proposed Wait List Service (WLS) has his full attention. 

“WLS is a bad idea”, Rowland said. “The customers for the WLS will be very unhappy with the non-results they get. The fact that a name has a WLS would indicate that the name has value to someone and drop chasers will just go straight to the domain owners to get it. You can't stop the chase.” Rowland says “Exody will just add to our current listings and provide "WLS-soon-to-expire" listings and I presume that drop catchers will take fees for WLS-catching. I could even see a second round of Verisign Waiting List for the first WLS! Just leave it the way it is. It ain't broke and don't fix it!”  

Since WLS would require being first in line at all costs, Rowland believes it could create a demand for much more information than is currently needed to chase names. He said, “A lot of things may change. For example, the drop catchers could start contacting name owners and become their brokers but Exody will just continue to provide information, WLS or not.” 

For all of its success, Exody has one unique problem that few companies putting out a quality product have to worry about. The industry pros who benefit from the service would prefer that others not know about it, so there is very little “word of mouth” advertising for Exody. Current customers think letting newbies get their hands on the lists would be tantamount to handing weapons of mass destruction to Al-Qaida.  

Rowland can live with that though. Whether they talk Exody up or not he says “I have to thank all of our customers for their support, trust and most of all their ideas for the Exody service. They have helped me formulate most of the listings we provide.” Wife Deborah gets a lot of credit too. “Deborah is the backbone of everything here. She takes in the money and pays all the bills. She's a big part of Exody and all the other ideas that flow around here,” Rowland said. 

A basic Exody subscription costs $35 a month. Those who haven’t used the service often ask it it’s worth the money. Rowland notes “If the lists help a customer find just one or two good domains a month it easily pays for itself.” 

As always we have saved the best for last. The burning question real domain addicts will want answered is this: Do you still have all of those two-character domains? Those are beans Rowland is happy to spill. “Yes we still have all but one of the two-character domains we registered in 1997,” he smiled. There are two .coms, r0.com and 0t.com, 12 are .orgs (28.org, c0.org, jv.org, n2.org, o1.org, o4.org, q1.org, t0.org, u7.org, w2.org, x8.org and z7.org) and there are 15 .nets (1o.net, 1t.net, 4o.net, 4t.net, 5k.net, 5z.net, 85.net, 8k.net, 9x.net, b0.net, h0.net, k3.net, q0.net, u0.net and u7.net). The only one we sold was 1e.org for $450.00 to an early Exody customer.  

“When you take into account that only 3,888 two-character domains exist in .com .net and .org combined and we had the 12th largest collection, it was good fishing!,” Rowland concludes. Spoken like a good ole boy who is the real thing.
 



If you would like to comment on Ron Jackson’s article, write editor@dnjournal.com.
 

If you missed our previous Cover Story Click Below: 

Domain Industry Ghostbuster: Why Roger Collins Brought Afternic Back From the Afterlife 

All other previous cover stories are available in our Archive

 

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