Net enters a new period

Two new addresses are signing on

5 more planned

Goal is to organize

Changes are seen as part of growth of the Internet

September 30, 2001|By Andrew Ratner | Andrew Ratner,SUN STAFF

For the first time since the launch 15 years ago of dot-com that transformed it from an obscure government communications network into a multibillion-dollar e-commerce machine, the Internet will add new addresses in the next few weeks.

The creation of two new so-called top-level domain addresses, dot-info and dot-biz, might be followed by five more within a year. Their introduction is an attempt to make the Internet more organized and useful - and make a few hundred million dollars in the process for the relative handful of companies involved in the arcane business of processing names for Web sites.

The new addresses are expected to help Internet users find Web sites more easily, and to rectify an often-heard complaint that the medium is too vast and time consuming. The "information superhighway," even its advocates say, often behaves more like an endless prairie.

"The Internet today is like the Wild, Wild West. It's this hodgepodge of speculators and businesses and consumers," said Doug Armentrout, chief executive officer of NeuLevel, a Northern Virginia-based company that won the right to administer the dot-biz launch.

More than 50,000 preregistrations were made for dot-info addresses and a million for dot-biz, three times as many as expected, officials involved in the process said. Next year, five more "virtual zones" might be added: dot-name for personal Web pages; dot-pro, restricted to professionals such as doctors and lawyers; dot-museum for museums; dot-coop for cooperative organizations; and dot-aero for the air transport industry.

However, technology analysts and businesses said they sense little enthusiasm for the new Internet addresses. After dot-com, there's mostly calm, they said.

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington Sept. 11 also hampered the rollout and hurt the technology companies clustered in Lower Manhattan. Dot-info begins tomorrow. Dot-biz has been pushed back to Oct. 23.

"There's not that great of a rush in the business community to get these," said Christopher M. Howe, who oversees Web name registrations for G1440 Inc., an Internet services company in Canton. "I'm not sure any of them will supersede the universal acceptance that dot-com has. If it's my company, is it worth a couple hundred dollars? Yeah, it's like car insurance. You pay for it, but hopefully you'll never need it. But it's been met with a lot of ambivalence."

"Dot-com has a lot of recognition. Any time you try to change users' behavior, it's hard," said Todd C. Weller, an Internet analyst for Baltimore-based Legg Mason Inc. "There hasn't been a tremendous marketing effort."

Expanding the network

Proponents, however, view the new addresses as part of an inevitable evolution of the Internet. They point out that other forms of popular technology - from the telephone to the television - barely resemble their beginnings.

The Internet grew out of "Arpanet," a computer network funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency that President Dwight D. Eisenhower created to respond to the Cold War threat.

In the mid-1980s, a group of engineers and scientists debated how to expand the institutional network for public use. They settled on a handful of addresses: dot-org for nonprofit organizations, dot-net usually to refer to networks, dot-gov for government, dot-edu for education institutions and, almost as an afterthought, dot-com.

"There was really a strong thinking at the time that these commercial sites would amount to nothing more than junk mail," recalled Armentrout, who worked at the time for a company called Network Solutions that managed the infant Internet. As Web site registrations trickled in, Network Solutions kept track of them on a legal pad, he said.

`Cybersquatters'

But, by 1997, the Internet created a gold rush with so-called "cybersquatters" claiming names of famous people and brands and often selling them for thousands of dollars more than they paid. Someone who registered the domain name "business.com" sold it for $7.5 million.

Dot-com caught on so well, it became more than an address. It grew into a synonym for the Internet age, from its get-rich-quick birth to its not-get-rich-at-all present. About 80 percent of the 30 million "domain names" registered on the Internet end in dot-com.

But organizers of the Internet were dissatisfied that dot-com had become a catchall for everything from Web sites of global corporations to personal ventings, as in Ihatewhatever.com. With many "good" addresses snapped up by speculators, officials also wanted to add layers to expand the number of available names.

They also envision dot-biz more efficiently guiding jewelry shoppers, for instance, to sites for pearls instead of to sites for the rock band Pearl Jam. Communications between vendors and suppliers might also be streamlined.

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