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 Master of your domain

Blog SitesMaster of your domain
Belfast Telegraph, United Kingdom
By Danny Bradbury

Damien Hirst is the latest celebrity to find that someone else has a site bearing his name - It's a lesson for us all - if you want your own web address, snap it up while you can. Danny Bradbury explains how.

More and more people are registering websites based on their own name. Anyone can get one, for just a few pounds, and if you want to get the address you want, it's better to get in sooner rather than later. As the artist Damien Hirst found out recently, if you want a website that someone else has already registered, getting your way can be a tricky business. More on that later (see sidebar). First let's assume you're not a celebrity and feel like laying claim to your very own piece of cyberspace. How does it all work?

Why would I want a domain name?

The most obvious answer is that you may want your own website. For businesses or self-employed people, the benefits are obvious. But many families, residents' associations, football teams and individuals are choosing the added kudos and control of placing their family albums on their own site rather than tagging along with the crowd and using, say, MySpace.

But even if you have no desire to build a website, you may well be persuaded by the e-mail options this gives you. Consumer e-mail services such as Yahoo!, Gmail or AOL may offer you a free e-mail address, but you have to share the domain (aol.com or gmail.com) with hundreds of thousands of other customers. If you register your own domain name, it gives you an exclusive home online. Instead of using yourname@aol.com as an e-mail address, for example, you might want to follow the trend and have yourfirstname@yourname.com. Many people consider this more professional, and it also gives a sense of ownership - if you're fed up with changing your address because you switch your service provider or an account lapses, buying your own web address is a good option.

Where do I start?

Before you even go online to see which ...





web addresses are available, choose three or four alternative names that you might like. If your name is John Smith, chances are that someone has already registered all the available forms (from johnsmith.com to jsmithonline.co.uk). If your name is likely to have been registered already, then use some imagination - there will always be a phrase that will work for you - "thesmithsinliverpool", for instance, might be the site for your family.

Next, decide the suffix (known as the top-level domain name, or TLD) you want to use. This is the part of the address that comes after the dot. In theory, it describes the site's purpose and region - ".com" is intended for commercial domains, whereas ".org" is for non-profit organisations, but no one's going to mind if you register a ".com" and use it for a non-commercial reason.

Almost everyone wants a ".com", but there are many other options - you might consider ".me.uk" or ".biz" or even ".ltd.uk". Europhiles will doubtless enjoy the new option: ".eu". Whatever you settle on will dictate the ending of your e-mail address - john@thesmithsinliv erpool.com, for instance.

How do I register?

When you've got a clear idea of what you're after, go online and see what's available.

Type in the address you want and see what comes up. They'll all offer the same addresses, but their charges and packages will differ. If the domain is not already registered, you can pay to claim it as your own for the period of your choosing (the minimum is normally a year or two), and costs are often as little as £5. When your registration period comes to an end, you are almost always offered first rights at renewing your registration, but check this with the registrar.

What can I do with my domain name?

Claiming the domain just stops others from using it. Next you have to create a website or set up your new e-mail address. You can find these services from a third-party "hosting company", but often the easiest way is to buy the services you need from the domain registrar, so while you are browsing the addresses available, look out for their charges.

For e-mail, there are two options. Either you are given the details of how your e-mail program can pick up your e-mail directly, or you can simply use the new e-mail account as a forwarding box, so that anything sent there automatically gets bounced on to, say, your BTInternet or Yahoo! mail, if that suits you.

To build a website, first you have to buy space on a server. This can be done by the registrar or a hosting company.


How do I design my site?

Some people decide to learn HTML (HyperText Markup Language). Essentially it lets you produce written instructions explaining exactly what the site should look like and what it should say, and all you need is a word processor and a "how to" guide, such as the book HTML for Dummies. If you want something more complicated, try a program that lets you visually design your page, and then writes the HTML code for you. Microsoft's FrontPage is good for beginners, while Adobe's Dreamweaver is more advanced.

What about a weblog (blog)?

Blogs are simply web pages that you can update easily using special software. The easiest way to set one up is to register with a specialist site such as Blogger or TypePad, and then set up your new domain so that it forwards people to your blog. Or, you can run and manage your weblog using your own web-hosting space, but your hoster will need to provide extra features such as a database and scripting software, which will cost more. The upside is that this gives you more control.

Is privacy an issue?

Privacy is a huge issue for domain owners. When you register a domain you provide your address and telephone number. Anyone can find that address by entering the domain name into an online "WHOIS" service, like the one at www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp.

Anyone putting pictures of their children online for friends and family members to see or making controversial websites should consider their online privacy. Look for domain registrars offering private registration, which will withhold such personal details from "WHOIS" directories, although this anonymity often costs extra. Also check that your hosting company offers password protection, if you don't want just anyone logging on.

What else should I watch out for?

Spellings and strange word concatenations can cause much embarrassment for domain name registrants. Pen distributor Pen Island had to publish a warning on its website after spammers sent vulgar e-mails pretending to come from its domain. That isn't surprising, given that the domain it chose is penisland.net.

You may have registered a .com domain name, but have you checked to see who's using .net, .org and .co.uk? Visitors wanting pens and visiting penisland.com instead of penisland.net will get a nasty surprise. And for years, the White House (whitehouse.gov) had to contend with confused members of the public surfing to whitehouse.com, which was a porn site until 2004.

The celebs who have suffered from 'cyber-squatters'

Cyber squatting - the act of using someone else's trademark or name in your website - is as old as the commercial web. As far back as 1996, Mohammed al-Fayed was incensed when entrepreneurial techies registered harrods.com and tried to sell it to the company. Harrods sued for trade infringement and won. In 1999, the Uniformed Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) came into force as a means of quickly resolving cyber-squatting disputes, but cases have been increasing; last year, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) saw a 20 per cent rise in cyber-squatting cases, dealing with four per day on average.

Not all cases involve opportunists trying to sell people their own names. Many celebrities have battled with people wanting to use the cachet of their names to attract visitors to their own websites. The artist Damien Hirst gained ownership of damienhirst.com last year from a third party who was running a "tribute" site. But he didn't think to register damien-hirst.co.uk, and recently he had to threaten legal action against the person who did.

Madonna won the madonna.com domain in 2000 from Daniel Parisi. He had bought the madonna.com domain in 1998 for $20,000 and had been using it as a porn site; he used whitehouse.com for the same purpose. Sony Entertainment won the right to use celinedion.com from the cyber-squatting mogul Jeff Burgar, who famously registered many celebrity names and redirected the sites to his own ad-driven celebrity website. Burgar also lost tomcruise.com to the actor this year.

Other stars weren't so lucky. Bruce Springsteen lost a cyber-squatting dispute against Burgar in 2001, after WIPO decided that Burgar had legitimate interests in the brucespringsteen.com domain name. A year earlier, Gordon Sumner (Sting), failed to win sting.com from the owner of a gambling site (although Sting now owns the site).

Disputes over company names are common. The most amusing was over the mikerowesoft.com domain, registered in late 2003 by Canadian teenager Mike Rowe. Microsoft offered him $10 to sign the domain over, and threatened legal action when he stood his ground. He eventually gave it up in January 2004 in exchange for an alternative domain registration, some free software and an Xbox.




 
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