Business of domain names

THE INTERNET, whose stewardship has moved from technocrats to businessmen, is increasingly becoming a turf for shrewd entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial wave is creating artificially precious commodities by deliberately enhancing the values of some commodities to levels far beyond their real value. The domain name, which is just a label created to identify a computer on the Internet, is a typical example.

What is a domain name?

As all of us know, the Internet is a vast network of millions of computers linked by various means - ranging from submarine cables to ordinary telephone lines. To identify each participating machine in the Network we need an address. As everything related to computers is expressed in numbers, the Internet address - usually known by the IP (Internet protocol) address - is a string of numbers. But it is very difficult to operate with these numbers especially when we have to access millions of computers.

So in order to save us the burden of remembering long numeric addresses, experts devised a mechanism to represent computers through labels constructed using alphanumeric (combinations of alphabets and numbers) characters. These labels represent the domain names. Now, if you want to access the server of the National Informatics Centre, you need to type only https://www.nic.in. In the absence of a domain name you would have had to type something like The simplicity and ease of use of domain names is obvious.

Domain system

To properly manage the naming of computers and to properly associate these labels with IP numbers, a hierarchical Domain Name System - DNS - was developed. Under this system the whole domain space is divided into a set of domains. These domains can be broadly classified into the international domain or the generic/country domain. Some examples of the generic domains are .com (for company), .org (organisation), .net (network), and .edu (educational institution) and some country domain examples are .in(India), and .au (Australia). The generic domains are also called generic top-level domains (gTLDs).

Anybody can register his address as a .com, or .org or .net domain but he needs to satisfy certain conditions to register under the .edu category. There are many registries (appointed by ICANN - Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which is the main body that looks after domain name related issues) through which you can register a domain name in the generic domains - Network Solutions (www.nsi.com), and Register.com (www.register.com) are two of them. But country domains registries vary from country to country.

Domain issues

Because of the widespread acceptance of the Internet by the business community and the corresponding mad race for web-enabled services, a domain name through which a business is going to be identified has considerable value. When the web was just coming into its own some entrepreneurs were quick to spot the opportunity for profit and started registering for themselves all kinds of domain names - with the sole aim of selling them later at exorbitant prices to firms which wanted these names. Cyber squatting or cyber piracy is what such registration is called.

Another interesting thing that happened was the acquisition of certain country codes with a unique significance and the registry under that domain with a price quite higher than the market price. The story of Dot TV company, which bought the country domain .tv of a small nation Tuvalu (www.tuvalu.tv) is an example. So many have registered in this domain and these names are being auctioned - for some domains the current bids are more than $100,000 (if interested visit the site: www.tv). Another example in this category is .md (the domain name of Moldova) which has become the domain for doctors www.web.md

New developments

An interesting development is the proposal for creating new gTLDs. The Domain Names Supporting Organization of the ICANN (www.icann.org) recommended that ICANN's board of directors should take the initiative for the introduction of new generic top-level domains. Some of the proposed TLDs are .travel (for travel industry), .movie (for movie sites), and .banc (for financial institutions). This is going to be a major topic of discussion in the forthcoming ICANN meeting at Yokohama, Japan, from July 13 to 17.

Do you want to register a domain free of cost? Before winding up this week's piece, I would like to introduce an interesting service brought to my notice by Mr. Sabu Joseph. Namezero (www.namezero.com), which helps you register a domain in the .com/.org/.net domains. To register a domain through this service, you just need a valid email address. Through this site you can have sites of the form www.murali.com and email addresses of the form murali@murali.com. (Readers who visit www.murali.com will see an image of some one other than the author of NetSpeak.) You only have to access the site and go through the registration process. Once the registration process is completed, you will get an email notification after a day or two informing you of your domain name details. Reply to this mail and within 24-hours your domain will be activated.

J. Murali

(The author can be contacted at: murali27@satyam.net.in)