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The Cutting Edge: Computing / Technology / Innovation : Now You Can Be Master of Your Own Domain

There is no feeling quite as satisfying as the pride that arises from surveying one’s domain--the acres of plangent wheat, the simple peasants happily tilling the soil, the vineyards rolling undulant across the hills.

Since I’m not a 19th-Century Russian landowner, I’ve never experienced this bogus idyll firsthand, although it wouldn’t surprise me if an ancestor or two had had a cattle-rustling business somewhere in the neighborhood.

Nevertheless, I’ve got a domain, and in some ways it’s even larger than anything enjoyed by the Russian gentry. For $12.50, I got the folks at Caprica, a Southern California Internet service provider (e-mail info@caprica.com), to register akst.com as an Internet domain. All I had to do was fill out an electronic mail form with my name, addresses and reason for wanting a domain.

As a result, I can now receive mail at dan@akst.com, yasnaya-polyana@akst.com or anything else @akst.com; Caprica simply funnels it all into akst@caprica.com. Domains are granted on a first-come, first-served basis, and getting one has been so easy that it led to a certain amount of “domain-grabbing” by cyberspace squatters who tried to lock up domain names that other people might someday want. The idea was to get, say, maytag.com. Then when the appliance company woke up to the need for an Internet domain, it would have to pay to get one with its own name on it.

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Last Friday the Net gods finally got tough, imposing a new policy that will make life more difficult for domain grabbers. It is also aimed at keeping the Net gods themselves from having to arbitrate between the competing claims of mere mortals in cyberspace. (The policy can be had via ftp at rs.internic.net in the policy sub-directory.)

Just who are these Net gods? Well, the power to decide who gets what domain rests with the InternNIC, or Internet Network Information Center, an organization that has delegated the task to Network Solutions Inc. of Herndon, Va. (Neither of these outfits charges for domain registration; the fee generally charged is for the Internet service provider’s trouble.)

The new policy says that anyone trying to register a domain agrees that he or she has the right to use the name in question and won’t be infringing on anybody’s “trademark, service mark, trade name, company name or any other intellectual property right.” The new policy also says that Network Solutions can place a working domain on hold in the event of a trademark dispute. To prevent the stockpiling of domains, those unused for 90 days can be revoked.

David Graves, Internet business manager for Network Solutions, says he believes most disputes over domain names--as many as two dozen such conflicts have arisen in the past two to three months--aren’t due to any kind of domain piracy. Nevertheless, trademark issues are at the heart of many such disputes and are likely to arise more frequently given the exploding number of new domains. Graves says that last December, his organization registered 3,600 for the month; in May of this year, it registered 14,000.

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The Internet is organized into domains, sub-domains and so forth because it’s efficient and in keeping with the distributed nature of the beast, permitting different people to take care of different sub-domains with no fear of duplication. For instance, someone at the Los Angeles Times takes care of sub-domains and addresses at latimes.com. Since there is only one latimes.com, the local administrator can rest assured that by creating news.latimes.com, he hasn’t created a sub-domain that already exists elsewhere.

The top-level domain is always the one at the end of the address. The so-called big six original “high-level domains” are com, edu, gov, mil, org and net. Together these six contain 70,000 domain names, Graves says.

As you might imagine, the com domain is the fastest-growing--so fast, in fact, that the Internet Engineering Task Force, a volunteer group dealing with such issues, is thinking about starting a new high-level domain to take some of the pressure off com, which right now has to accommodate both lone nerds like me and giant companies like IBM.

Domains are important, but they’re really just stand-ins for the unique numerical addresses given to each computer connected to the Internet. For your e-mail to reach its destination, your service provider’s computer looks up the part of the address after the @ sign in a “domain name server,” a distributed database of addresses, and finds out the Internet Protocol number corresponding to that address. (Since I access the Internet by dialing a service provider’s computer, instead of having my own machine attached to the Net, akst.com doesn’t have its own number; when my domain was registered, it was listed in the appropriate domain name server at one of the numerical addresses assigned to Caprica.)

Personally, I think having one’s own domain beats the heck out of vanity license plates. Businesses that establish a domain can sort mail according to addressee and even provide some automated responses; e-mail to info@acme.com could automatically generate basic information, whereas e-mail to support@acme.com could generate a trouble-shooting document.

I’m not planning anything that elaborate, but I still enjoy having my own domain. Besides making me swell with a sense of proprietorship (I plan to keep my domain really clean), it makes my e-mail address easy to remember and looks only slightly grandiose on a business card or letterhead. Besides, Internet domains are easy to maintain without serfs.

* Daniel Akst welcomes messages at akstd@news.latimes.com but regrets that he cannot always reply.

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Anybody Home? You can find out if a domain is taken--and who handles administrative matters in a domain--by using the Internet’s WHOIS function. WHOIS allows you to search the database of the Internet Network Information Center for a name or domain.

Your Internet provider may offer a WHOIS client, in which case you can simply type “whois smith” at the prompt. (Leave out the quotation marks and substitute any name for smith.) Or telnet to rs.internic.net and give the whois command. Better yet, use WHOIS via the World Wide Web at https://www. intellinet.com/CoolTools/Whois/.


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