Havenco – the rise and fall of a data haven

I have an admission to make. I was inspired to get the haven.com domain (which I use for all my personal stuff on the 'net) after reading some cyber-punk novel or other. Might have been Neuromancer by Bill Gibson or maybe Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

Whatever. Anyway I was entranced with the idea of “data havens” that was floating around in the fiction of that time, and that's what was on my mind when it came time to get my very first ever domain name. I was tickled to death to find out that haven.com was available (for free back in those days).

Some years later, Ryan Lackley contacted me to see if I would be interested in selling him the domain for a new venture he was involved with, which at that time was called HavenCo. Their premise was to set up a secure data haven in this odd little place called Sealand (that’s their official “national” site — also check out the Wikipedia entry about Sealand, which includes the latest developments like the fire in 2006). Sealand is an old WWII gun platform about 10 miles off the coast of England that is owned by a pretty odd character who dubbed himself “Prince Roy”, declared himself a sovereign nation and embarked on all kinds of schemes ranging from ship registry to fishing tours.

I passed — we'd just sold gofast.net, and I'd sold Television.com and Company.com and was feeling like I needed a breather.

HavenCo launched about a year later (July 2000), amidst much fanfare and a fabulous piece in Wired Magazine.

Well, almost five years have passed as I write this and as I was updating my web site with a little group of links called “All the Havens this isn't…” I decided to see how HavenCo was doing. Unfortunately, as with lots of schemes that were hatched in 1999, HavenCo isn't doing so well these days.

Here's a link to the official HavenCo web site. Doesn't look too bad does it? The site's still up, and it appears that they're still open for business. Well, not so fast.

Here's an article that ran in 2002 that starts giving you a clue that maybe things are starting to unravel. Check out the pictures of the Sealand platform. Hmm. I'm not sure I'd want to put much of a raised-floor computer/network operations center out there. And I sure wouldn't want to live out there for a couple years the way Ryan eventually did.

Here's Ryan's writeup of where things are at — which is the usual disarray of failed contracts combined with a dash of international sovereignty foolishness. I found this paper that Ryan presented at DefCon to be especially poignant.

So to sum up — it looks like (as of this writing) HavenCo is limping along, milking it's remaining customers for whatever it can. The founders are all gone. Lawsuits abound. Dreams are shattered. Geeks are pissed.

Sigh. So many stories like this… Remember all that baloney in Wired Magazine about The Long Boom that started coming out in 1997 or so? Oh well…