Digerati I: What’s in a domain name?

The Web and the Internet have created a new breed of literati, those who appear to have all the answers and understand all things technical. The bon mot to describe this group is the “digerati.”
Over the next few columns, I’m going to turn you into at least an honourary member of the digerati by deconstructing some of the complexities of the internet. And we’ll start with the most basic and essential part of the Web: the domain name.
Domain names are the online calling cards for businesses, organizations, governments, and even individuals around the world. They are, essentially, the address of a computer on the Internet.
They consist of two or more parts separated by periods that go left-to-right from most-specific to least-specific.
The least-specific part of the domain name is the Top-Level Domain, or TLD. That’s the technical term for the two- or three-letter suffix on the domain name, like fortfrances.com for example.
There are basically two types of TLDs—Global TLDs and Country Code TLDs.
In 1985, when top-level domains were first created, there were seven gTLDs:
•COM—Commercial Organizations
•NET—Network/Internet Infrastructure
•ORG—Non-Profit Organizations
•EDU—U.S. Educational Establishments
•GOV—U.S. Government
•MIL—U.S. Military
•ARPA—Internet Routing
There was a time when the COM, NET, and ORG Top-Level Domains were restricted, and you had to justify your organization’s request for a domain. Now, all three are available to anyone.
The other four are still restricted.
Since 1985, Country Code TLDs have been handed out to countries as needed. Some of the most common you’ll see are:
•CA—Canada
•US—United States
•UK—United Kingdom
•AU—Australia
•RU—Russia
During the dot-com frenzy several years ago, the country of Tuvalu actually sold its ccTLD to a company for $50 million in royalties, which then resold domain names using it. Their country code? .TV, of course.
They used the money to join the United Nations. Talk about building a nation on the back of technology.
Here’s our domain name example again: fortfrances.com is our domain name. The “com” is the TLD and the “fortfrances.com” is the second level domain. Together, they form a domain name which is unique—and which can only be registered by one person or organization.
So, if your business is selling coffee beans and you want to register coffeebean.com, you’re out of luck—someone else already has registered it.
Many businesses are domain name “squatters” (i.e., they have registered hundreds of domain names, with the intention of selling them at an inflated price). At one point, domain names were being resold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
PGA.com, for example, was bought from the Potato Growers of Alberta for more than $26,000 (U.S.) by the Professional Golfer’s Association. Now, domains sell for much less, since the vast majority of the most valuable ones have been registered.
However, domain names are only registered for a certain period of time—anywhere from one to 10 years—so it’s possible you could pick it up PGA.com if someone forgot to re-register it.
Just send my share of the profits c/o the Fort Frances Times.
Additional Resources:
•What’s in a Name? Money
http://www.pagewave.com/domain.html
•Origins of the Domain Name System
http://dns.vrx.net/history/
•.TV Domain History
http://en2.wikipedia.org/wiki/.tv
•List of Country Code TLDs
http://www.iana.org/cctld/cctld-whois.htm
Lincoln Dunn is the manager of the Times’ Web design team. Comments or feedback? E-mail him at lincoln@fortfrances.com

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