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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 July, 2005, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
How the new Pope sparked a bidding war
By Jacqueline Head
BBC News

People across the world watched with interest as it was announced that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would take the papal name Pope Benedict XVI.

But for some, the name had more than religious or historical significance. Instead, it represented a chance at making fast money.

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI inspired some to create new email addresses
As the news broke, there was a rush to be the first to register the new title as a web or e-mail address, sparking an online bidding war.

Now a whole range of papal domain names and e-mail addresses are up for sale on eBay, sitting alongside the commemorative mugs, photos, t-shirts, thimbles, watches and other Pope paraphernalia.

'God's work'

While some promise the money to charity or to go towards paying off university fees, others claim purchasing a web address for the Pope will signify their devotion to the Catholic leader.

The top rating domain name so far - PopeBenedictXVI.com - registered by a Canadian, is currently going for over $5,000.

It had previously been auctioned for almost $20,000, but was closed after a mistake in the bidding.

Another seller, Chris, who has the domain name ThepopebenedictXVI.com up for grabs, said he was only seconds behind the Canadian in registering the address.

"I want the money from the domain name to go to God's work," he said. "If mine doesn't sell on eBay I will try to donate it to the Catholic Church."

'Cyber Pope'

Meanwhile, an e-mail address set up by an Irish-born journalism student in London has received world-wide media interest after he put up popebenedictxvi@hotmail.it for sale.

While it has only received $150 in bids so far, seller Vincent Flood, 27, says he is more interested in the "buzz of media attention".

So far his story has been picked up by TV, radio, print and online across 25 different countries.

Vincent Flood
Vincent Flood has been dubbed the "Cyber Pope"
In addition, the hotmail address has been swamped with excited e-mails from well-wishers who believe they are actually writing to the Pope.

One congratulatory e-card sent to the address read: "Holy Father how are you? Father I kindly request you to take care of your health."

Others have not been so formal with what they believe to be the head of the Catholic Church - "hey pope i hope u av a gd reign", one message read.

Mr Flood, now dubbed the Cyber Pope, said he has sent on the official Vatican address for those wishing to contact the Pope.

He has only received one negative e-mail to the address, which asks the Pope why the Catholic Church frowns upon homosexuality.

Mr Flood said he doesn't see a reason why people should take offence at the e-mail title.

"I haven't stolen anything or taken anything from the Pope. I'm surprised anyone was interested in it at all," he said.

He hopes the money raised will go towards paying off his student debt, and that the interest generated will help launch his career.

'Recurring phenomenon'

Another eBay user, 57-year-old Ric Moser, a computer consultant in Newport Richey, Florida, US, is selling PopeBenedict-16.org, with a starting bid of $49.

Mr Moser said only a few domain names had the potential to generate "big bucks".

"I don't think there's anything sacrosanct about any domain names," he said.

"But I'd be concerned if someone took one and used it for a porn site. The internet is open to any type of abuse," he added.

The trend to sell bizarre objects on eBay appears to be growing

Chris Dunaway, 33, from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is also selling a range of domain names, including Popebenedict.org, PopeBenedict.net and PopeBenedict.info.

He said he spent one month researching possible names for the Pope, and has also started to register domain names for the 2008 US election.

But unlike the other bidders, Mr Dunaway said he has "been called all sorts of names", including Pope Squatter.

Jay Finnan, of Sedo.com, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts - which is also advertising Mr Dunaway's domain names - said they had received offers for up to $1,600, and three other Pope Benedict titles had sold for $4,000.

"This is definitely a recurring phenomenon," he said.

"When John Kerry chose Senator Edwards as his running mate the owner of KerryEdwards.com quickly listed it on our site.

"There was a flood of media attention around it and soon hundreds of speculators were listing every conceivable variation of Kerry Edwards."

Making profits

Mr Finnan said the type of people purchasing domain names are mostly interested in selling advertising or making a fan web site for the Pope.

Some people are buying to resell the address at a later date, and some are a combination of all three types, he said.

He dismissed the idea that some could be the target of porn or gambling websites.

Mr Finnan said: "99.9% of people buying these are interested in the Pope. If somebody is interested in making profits it's better for them to advertise Pope related items such as religious books and non-profit organisations."

He said a gambling or porn site registered in the Pope's name would not generate profits, because visitors would be expecting content on the Pope, and so wouldn't explore the site further.

While the bidding for Pope Benedict domain names continues, it appears the trend to sell bizarre objects on the likes of eBay is far from over.

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