In the past year, the Dinkytown Business Alliance has switched leadership and changed its name. But adding to its identity crisis has been an outdated website that members had no control over.
In 2008, Tyler Larson, a then-University of Minnesota senior, built a website for the alliance free of charge. After Larson graduated and moved on, the website became outdated but remained the top result on search engines like Google. Now, members hope to combat inaccuracies in the original website with a better one.
Former DBA president Skott Johnson said Larson approached the alliance with the idea of building the old website, dinkytownminneapolis.com.
“At first it worked out and people could get their hours and everything updated correctly,” Johnson said. “But I know over time … people were getting a little frustrated; the dates were inaccurate, and there were businesses there that were no longer around.”
Most recently, the website included organizations like the House of Hanson, Downtime Bar and Grill and Cummings Books — all of which have either been replaced or shut down.
“We all just wish that it would go away because it’s just a dinosaur,” said DBA coordinator Chris Lautenschlager.
Last summer, Lautenschlager created dinkytownusa.org. But he said Larson’s site continued to attract more visitors, while the updated DBA site is nowhere to be found when someone searches for the district’s online presence.
The DBA originally wanted to buy the website from Larson or bury it in Google search results, Lautenschlager said.
Instead, the DBA plans to launch a new site in coming months to drive web traffic away from the outdated one.
But because of the DBA’s limited resources, Lautenschlager said the group was more inclined to try improve its search engine optimization rather than purchase Larson’s website.
After Larson graduated in 2008, he responded to the DBA’s requests for updates less frequently. The site’s information became inaccurate, listing parking lots and businesses that no longer exist, and eventually, Larson stopped responding entirely.
On March 11, dinkytownminneapolis.com stopped showing up on search engines, and the site itself shows a 404 error.
Larson could not be reached for comment.
Technically, what Larson did wasn’t illegal, said University of Minnesota Law School associate professor, William McGeveran, who specializes in Internet law.
Laws protecting against cybersquatting — when someone creates a website to impersonate a person or company — don’t apply because the DBA worked with Larson on the website, and it doesn’t claim to represent the organization.
The site could also be regarded as an expression of free speech, McGeveran said.
“Everyone has the right to put up a website about a subject as long as they’re not passing themselves off as somebody else,” he said.