Planting Your Flag on a Patch of the Web

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Owning an Internet domain is a bit like owning real estate. After buying one, a patch of the Internet is your playground. You can open for business at, say, "wicked-awesome-pizza.com," you can publish a blog or you can sell the domain to the highest bidder.

But like the competition for real estate, the rivalry for domains with the most desired addresses can be fierce, and it's not uncommon for people or organizations to be locked out of their first choice.

Since the early days of the Web, the dot-com extension (the .com part of a domain name) has remained the extension that's most recognized by consumers and most coveted by businesses. For example, if your name is Jennifer Apple and you would like to publish a blog at apple.com, you are out of luck unless Apple, the very big technology company, is planning to cooperate.

Late this year, however, someone with that naming predicament may have a chance to publish her blog at apple. nyc, apple. movie or apple. mba as a wide range of new domain extensions are expected to reach the market.

But even with those expanded opportunities, the domain acquisition process can be full of potholes.

Buying a Domain

Domains names are available from a large number of organizations called registrars. The world's largest registrar is GoDaddy, with more than 55 million domains under management. Other big names include Network Solutions, eNom and Tucows.

When searching for a domain it can pay to shop around. For example, wicked-awesome-pizza.com, for one year, was recently $12.99 at GoDaddy and $34.99 at Network Solutions. Other registrars like Namecheap, Moniker and 1&1 aim for low prices.

Still, when choosing a registrar, price is not the only consideration. Also important is a registrar's commitment to your privacy, the quality of the service and whether you are going to be stuck hearing annoying sales pitches for additional services. Some registrars like Gandi.net, iWantMyName and Hover try to simplify the domain management process and go out of their way to guide you through it.

If you appear to be locked out your top choice for a domain, you may still have options to land it or at least something close. A Whois search shows when a domain expires, though there's a waiting period before it drops back into the public arena. You can also use domain "drop-catching" services with rapid purchasing programs to snap up a domain the instant it becomes available at sites like DomainSite and Pool.com.

There is a secondary market for buying and selling domains from sites like Sedo, SnapNames and many of the registrars. You can also contact the current registrant privately to make an offer.

The Uses of a Domain

Once you have your new domain, there are countless options for publishing a Web site, including the registrars. And there is an array of other options -- some with novel content creation tools -- so don't feel pressured to host with your registrar. Using what are called DNS settings, you can point your domain to any Web-hosting source. You can go deeper with DNS services like ZoneEdit and Dyn to create subdomains like menu.wicked-awesome-pizza.com.

You can also use your domain for e-mail. Outlook.com, the e-mail service from Microsoft, can be used with a domain at no extra cost. Using Google Apps, at $50 a year, you gain the features of Gmail while having your personalized address. A wide range of other providers offer ways to use your domain with e-mail.

To attach your domain to a blog, options are available from WordPress ($13 a year), Blogger (free) and Tumblr (also free).

The New Options

The wave of new domain extensions, some of which could be available this year, will create new options on domains. Twenty-two generic top-level domain extensions are available now, plus the 250 or so country codes like .uk and .jp. The total could increase by an estimated 1,450 over time.

"This is a huge change, of a scope and scale that we have never seen," said Bill Sweetman, president of Name Ninja, a domain-name consultancy in Toronto. Mr. Sweetman said such a large influx of new extensions would bring new opportunities and pricing models, as well as confusion. "It's going to be a huge change in behavior."

Some of the extensions are geographic, like. paris, .berlin and. boston. Others are tied to professions, like. attorney, .plumbing and. cpa. And some are tied to products or hobbies like. skype or. bike. Still others will support character-based languages. So, for example, a company could choose a domain in Chinese charactersto point readers to its Chinese-language site.

But the changes have some business groups worried about issues like trademark infringement and security.

"It has to be done in an extremely careful way, covering all of the trademark protections that are necessary and stability and security issues that are critical to our membership," said Dan Jaffe, a vice president with the Association of National Advertisers. Mr. Jaffe said some businesses might feel compelled to buy up large quantities of new domains to protect their trademarks, a strategy he called defensive buying. He said some of the extensions might create security risks, as well, if they clash with internal corporate networks.

Many entities have already applied for new extensions, including Amazon, Google and municipalities like New York City. Many are expected to be made available through familiar registrars like GoDaddy.

"Being able to get a domain name that reflects what you are trying to do as a small-business owner is important," said Mike McLaughlin, vice president of domains for GoDaddy. "That perfect name contains the essence of what you want to achieve."

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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