My Spot on the
Million Dollar Homepage
Ten years ago today (August 26th) Alex Tew launched a website selling pixels for a $1 a piece. One million pixels were available, and Alex’s goal was to raise a million dollars. Arranged on a 1000 x 1000 grid, one could buy a block of pixels to display an image, and link it to their website. It was called the Million Dollar Homepage.
It was a great idea in the still-new medium of online advertising, and it soon caught on like wildfire. The page gained a lot of press, with write-ups in numerous publications (such as The Wall Street Journal). Alex even went on a press tour, appearing on Fox News and local news stations across the country. Alex had no trouble selling all one million pixels, and even auctioned off the last block for $38,100. His final gross was $1,037,100. The space was sold out in 5 months.
“Own a piece of internet history” reads the tagline on the Million Dollar Homepage. I remember coveting a spot among the million pixels back then — I wanted a piece of Internet history. However, with the minimum 10 x 10 block ($100), it was a little too rich for my blood.
I was recently thinking about the page (it’s still up). I wondered if I could get a piece now, ten years later - even if on a technicality.
Ten years is an eternity in Internet time, so I was certain there would be many broken links on the page. Casually clicking around led to several 404 error pages. I used the W3C Link Checker on the site, which checks for errors in outbound links. While it returned some 404 pages, I was most interested in the error “Bad Hostname”, meaning the entire site was gone. There were a handful.
I then took this list, and ran it through a domain name register to see which domains had expired. With the results from that, I now had a list of all the domains I could buy, which would essentially get me a spot on the Million Dollar Homepage.
Now of course, I couldn’t actually change the pixels that linked to the domain I would register. I would only control the site they linked to. So with my list of potential domains, my next task was to see what the pixels looked like for each link so I could choose the best looking one.
The way the Million Dollar Homepage was set up was one large graphic, with an image map. Meaning, the xy coordinates for each link was in the source. I opened the graphic in Photoshop, made a new layer with a little box, and then just moved that box to each coordinate. It would land on the pixels I was interested in, and I could quickly find the link’s corresponding picture.
Some of the pictures were boring, ugly or both. Most were 10 x 10 pixels, the smallest you could buy. I settled on what I thought was the best. A double-wide 20 x 10 British flag. A $200 value! It linked to 2millionpixels.com.
2millionpixels.com was one of the many sites that tried to replicate the Million Dollar Homepage idea. Unfortunately for the imitators, the Million Dollar Homepage was kind of a novelty — a great idea that worked once, but not a sustainable business model that would work over and over. Ironically, a lot of the spots sold on the Million Dollar Homepage were to these copy cat sites. In 2millionpixels.com’s case, they were a British company selling pixels for the low price of 5p. Looking at the old version in the Internet Archive, it looks like they sold some pixels, but ultimately didn’t even come close to filling them all up.
I bought the abandoned domain for $8.50. I now technically had a spot on the Million Dollar Homepage, one that had cost $200 once upon a time.
I decided to do a little test. I wondered how much traffic came from the Million Dollar Homepage, now ten years past its heyday? I set up Google Analytics, and as of this writing, it’s been running for 23 days. Looking only at referrals from the Million Dollar Homepage, I had grand total of five hits! I’m actually surprised I got any, since the Million Dollar Homepage has not been on people’s minds for a long time. But my curiosity was satisfied. I wanted to know if I could get a spot on the page, and in a way, I did.
Finally, I looked up the creator, Alex Tew. He was raising the million dollars to go to university, but dropped out after one term. I was surprised and delighted to learn he’s doing pretty well for himself. He’s now the Founder and CEO of Calm, which makes two apps I love, Calm and Checky. He kept his word to keep running the Million Dollar Homepage for at least five years, and then some. The page hasn’t changed much in the last ten years. Hopefully he’ll continue to keep it running as I rake in those five hits a month from my spot on the Million Dollar Homepage.