Twenty-five years ago who could have guessed how the online world would evolve? One person who had an idea was an entrepreneur named Gary Kremen, who saw a potential market for domain names and for dating services. So working with a $2,500 loan, Kremen launched the first online dating service, Match.com. Thinking of internet addresses as virtual equivalents of real estate, Kremen also began buying up domain names, including — as one might expect of a pioneer in the online dating industry — sex.com.
That was in 1994. But within a year Kremen discovered other adventurers prowling around in the wild and woolly and fast growing online world. As Kremen was preparing to launch his next venture, he was shocked to learn that someone had stolen the rights to the sex.com name and was making millions of dollars off it. That person was Stephen Michael Cohen.
The story of the battle between these two Internet pioneers is the subject of David Kushner’s newest book, “The Players Ball: A Genius, A Con Man and the Secret History of the Internet’s Rise,” just published by Simon & Schuster. Kushner will appear to talk about the book on Tuesday, May 14, at 6 p.m. at Labyrinth Books, 122 Nassau Street (www.labyrinthbooks.com or call 609-497-1600).
Kushner, who has served as a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University, is a contributing editor of Rolling Stone and a frequent contributor to the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired, the New York Times Magazine, and other publications. New York, GQ, and Esquire. Among his previous books are “Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto,” “Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for Civil Rights in America’s Legendary Suburb,” “Jonny Magic and the Card Shark Kids: How a Gang of Geeks Beat the Odds and Stormed Las Vegas,” and “Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture.”
He has also served as the digital culture commentator for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday and has taught journalism at New York University.
A 1989 graduate of the University of Maryland, Kushner grew up in Florida, where his father was a University of South Florida anthropology professor and his mother advocated for natural childbirth. The author was four years old when his life and that of his family were turned upside down when his older brother, Jonathan, 11, was murdered while he was riding his bike to a convenience store to purchase some candy for David.
Within the Kushner family, the specifics of Jonathan’s death were not discussed. “The word murdered was never mentioned,” Kushner wrote in “Alligator Candy: A Memoir.” The word “died” was used instead, “as if not mentioning the M-word would somehow make it less difficult.”
As a 13-year-old student at Tampa Preparatory School the younger Kushner began to consider the details of the tragedy. The school was on the campus of the University of Tampa, so he had access to the newspapers in the college library that were published at the time of his brother’s death. Reading those articles, Kushner wrote in his memoir, was “my first experience of journalism. Even then I was trying to learn the story.”
David Kushner was 47 years old when he fully revisited the family tragedy by writing the “Alligator Candy” memoir. Kushner’s parents, who valued activism, became “death and dying” activists, and founded a chapter of Compassionate Friends, a group for bereaved parents. “The questions I had were the same questions everybody had,” Kushner has told interviewers. “How did my parents survive it? How did our family survive it?”