Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Call it domain real estate.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the ruling body over Internet domain names, started a grab-fest last year by approving several new suffixes.

From July 25 to Oct. 25, more than 600,000 domain names with the .info suffix have been snapped up, according to Afilias, a domain registry in Newtown, Pa., that owns rights to .info. To date, 167,000 .biz names have been taken. Applicants have named domain names for everything from Subaru’s new WRX four-wheel-drive to relief efforts at the World Trade Center.

Just this month, .museum came up for bids. A list of hundreds of possibilities is listed at https://musedoma.museum/available_names.txt.

Heather Carle, spokeswoman for Afilias, says her company has “seen a really large mix of Fortune 500 companies and individuals getting names important for them,” such as New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, previously saddled with www.met.nyc.ny.us/. Its new site, mta.info, has caused its site traffic to jump from 200,000 hits a day to 3.5 million, she says.

Rowland LaPlante, chief marketing officer for Afilias, says his company is receiving thousands of requests daily.

“New top-level domains don’t come along every day,” he says. “There’s the personal: www.larryandandrea.info, a wedding site. There’s the whimsical: thesorcerorshandbook.info. Some are trying to capture generic categories, like real-estate-loan.info.” As for God.info, that’s been snapped up by an individual in San Francisco, he said.

Domain names are granted on a first-come, first-served basis for about $35 per year. The fee purchases the exclusive right to a use a specific domain name, not ownership of it. A name can be taken away by a court or by the registrar service if the fee is not paid.

Domain names must be registered with a service like Afilias. Most registrars offer Web-based registration using a simple five- or six-step form that asks for a series of personal data and requests a credit-card number for payment. Depending on the registrar used, it takes 24 to 48 hours to activate a new domain.

After registration, owners can leave their domain names “parked” without actually building Web sites, as long as dues are paid. Political campaigns often purchase every conceivable name combination of their candidates to prevent them from being used by the enemy.

The potential of unorthodox uses is real, as domain names can be bought and sold by anyone. News reports have described the horror experienced by churches, youth organizations and businesses whose domain site leases have expired, only to be snapped up by speculators who turn them into porn sites.

“As word of availability of .info gets out, a lot of people are registering their real names,” said Mr. LaPlante, who added that more than half of Afilias’ business is coming from Europe “because they were latecomers in the .com business.”

A New Zealand-based company, Pdom.com, also urges readers to reserve domains based on their own names.

“As people recognize their own name is unique, their name is shared by many,” the site says. “Find and register a domain name based on your own name. This immediately protects your identity and secures your domain for a variety of potential future uses.”

Pdom.com predicts the next big trend will be symbols. It has obtained rights to the symbol of the cross, which on some keyboards can be obtained by typing in several characters at once or obtaining a special browser plug. Tech journalist Mark Kellner says anything requiring a nonstandard keyboard is sure to fail, as Web browsers prefer easy-to-find sites.

“It’s a second gold rush,” he says of the .info buying spree, “but there is less gold. I cannot imagine any of the new sites changing hands for that much money again.”

He was referring to the sale of business.com for $7.5 million in late 1999 by a Texas businessman who bought the rights for the name in 1997 for $150,000. Other large sales include the 1994 sale of altavista.com by a California electrical engineer to Compaq for $3.3 million. Last year, year2000.com fetched $10 million, sold over the online auctioneer EBay Inc. by two Canadian computer consultants.

The price for individual sites is sure to decrease as more domains, with suffixes such as .name, .pro, .aero and .coop enter the marketplace.

But the .info suffix is particularly popular because anyone can apply for it. Part of its popularity is the overcrowded nature of the traditional .com, .net and .org sites. Competition for top names is so keen that one can hire a search machine to sort through a 60-million-name domain base for soon-to-be-expired names.

Netnames.com says the Internet has 36.1 million domain names, 22.3 million of which end with .com. Typical offerings and descriptions on an auction site such as GreatDomains.com include:

•SurvivalAmerica.com: “This could be an extremely popular domain name in light of the recent worldwide events.” The price is negotiable.

•Soexotic.com: “Perfect for adult, sex, music, fashion, cosmetics or travel.” Make an offer.

•Lilac.org.uk: “A pleasant name for a gardening site, maybe a plant/flower nursery or a florist.” The price is negotiable.

•Firstwizard.com: “The Harry Potter books and movie by J.K. Rowling is bound to be a multimillion-dollar business.” A package, including TotalWizard.com and WizardCostume.com, sells for $27,500.

•Totty.com: “Perfect name for an adult site Or maybe those with Totty as a family name or business name would like the prestige associated with owning their own name? Whatever.” The price is negotiable.

Also available are cardealership.com for $45,000, wordofmouthusa.com for $25,000 and bluetoothsolutions.tv. for $20,000. On afternic.com, another auction site, bridalmusic.com was going for $150 and Mommysplace.com was selling for $110. Hip-hop.net was higher at $1,850.

But September11.com? Unavailable.

Forming a cyber identity is easy and sites such as afternic.com will take one through a “tour” of how to buy and sell names.

The ICANN home page also offers a list of links to every accredited domain name registrar, like register.com and 1stdomain.net. Each company offers different prices, payment options and service features, designed to suit the needs of individuals, Internet start-up companies and even high-powered corporations.

Although .org is recommended for nonprofit organizations and .net is generally used for Internet companies, there are no strict requirements on the purchases of these extensions.

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