Digerati II: Who put the www in the URL?

I’m hoping that, in my last column on domain names, I didn’t leave too many people scratching their heads.
I have my doubts, however, since I was given a poster by the Times staff that was titled, “Writing Columns for Dummies,” at our Christmas party this past Saturday.
Let’s mix up the light stuff and the heavy stuff this week, with a little more domain information—and some geek gifts for you last-minute shoppers.
This week, we’ll plunge further into the nebulous world of domain names. And we’ll start with a secret about that popular three-letter term, “www.” It doesn’t mean anything. Not a thing.
Confused? Don’t be. Here’s the scoop on “www”—it’s called a prefix, or a subdomain, on your domain, and all it does is point to a folder on the computer where your domain lives.
Let’s say that you have a domain, “groovecat.com,” hosted by your local Internet service provider (ISP). When someone opens a browser window and types in “www.groovecat.com,” they’re asking your ISP’s computer, “Hey, hep cat, show me the page that you’ve got at groovecat.com in the www folder.”
Well, that’s probably not exactly how the browser asks, but you get the idea.
In reality, the “www” is just a name that’s generally used to point to a specific place on your domain. In fact, if you wanted, you could have anything you want as a subdomain. A family could have “bob.groovecat.com,” “jane.groovecat.com,” and “kitty.groovecat.com” all set up—and a completely different web site at each location.
The advantage of this is that you don’t need to register multiple domain names to have multiple sites—just subdomains for everyone.
Many businesses do this themselves to steer customers—and suppliers—to different sections, based on their needs. For example, Microsoft uses “support.microsoft.com” to point users to their help centre and “windows.microsoft.com” to get to the Windows product page.
Apple Computer lets you download Quicktime video content from “quicktime.apple.com” Many sites also let you just type in their domain name “groovecat.com” without the “www”—and still reach their web site.
While you can use any word as a subdomain, there are several that are used as standards, including www, ftp, mail, smtp, and pop.
That’s all the domain name information for this week. Let’s talk last-minute shopping, instead.
< *c>Easy gifts for
< *c>computer types
Still haven’t finished shopping for the holidays? Looking for some fast and easy gift ideas for the technically-inclined member of the household? Try some of these especially-electronic gifts on for size:
•The SCOTTeVEST
A line of outerwear that has up to 42 pockets for digital accessories, and the ability to run wires through the lining from one pocket to another ($99.99 U.S.)
http://www.scottevest.com/
•The Swiss Army CyberTool
The geek’s Swiss Army knife, decked out with Torx bits, hex sockets, dip switch setters, and wire strippers ($95 U.S.)
http://www.swissarmy.com/
•MINDSTORMS Droid Developer Kit
Design your own “Star Wars” droid, or build your own “R2D2” and control it from your PC. Perfect for younger techies, too. ($29 U.S.)
http://www.lego.com/
•Intec Playstation 2 Controller
Forget using your TV to play games. This controller has a built-in 2.5-inch screen and stereo speakers so that the game geek in your life can play while you still watch TV ($99 U.S.)
http://www.inteclink.com/
•USB Memory Pen
When is a pen not a pen? When it has a USB connector for your computer, and allows you to carry up to 256MB of data in your shirt pocket or purse. Oh, and you can also write with it ($99 U.S.)
http://www.thinkgeek.com/
•Apple iPod
This is the biggie in gifts this year. The iPod (for Windows or Macintosh) lets you carry up to 10,000 songs in a package the size of a deck of cards—and will play for eight hours on a single charge ($439)
http://www.apple.ca/
•A domain name
Why not register your own family’s domain name? It’s easy, and relatively cheap ($50-$100).
Try http://www.internic.ca/ to see what domains are available, and to register your own.

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