The Bottom Line This installment will cover the standard three-character domain names that are familiar to most web-surfers.
Standard (or generic) Top Level Domains are both the most common and the most well-known. There are seven gTLDs: .com, .net, .org, .edu, .gov, .mil and .int. Only the first three are truly generic although all seven three-character domains are usually lumped together under the gTLD acronym.
Originally all TLDs were reserved for specific uses, but only four gTLDs remain regulated at this time. They’ll likely remain reserved for the forseeable future for reasons which should become obvious. The four reserved gTLDs are: .edu, .gov, .mil and .int.
The .edu (or educational) domain is reserved for colleges and universities that grant degrees at the bachelor, master and doctoral level, or their foreign equivalents. To register a .edu domain (if you qualify) go to http://www.networksolutions.com
Not surprisingly, the United States government continues to control the .gov (or government) TLD for its exclusive use. Any federal agency may register for and receive a .gov domain. Thus this is where you will find such erstwhile organizations as the FBI, CIA, NSA and IRS, not to mention the White House itself. Registration of .gov domains is handled at http://www.nic.gov
As the third founding body of the internet the US military lays claim to their own gTLD (.mil or military) as well. Most, if not all, US military bases (whether on domestic or foreign soil) maintain .mil domains to house their websites and email servers. More information on .mil domains can be found at http://www.nic.mil
The final gTLD is the the .int (or international) domain. This is used exclusively for organizations created as a result of international treaties organizations enacted between governments and international databases supporting public internet architecture functions. This one’s pretty rare (in fact, I’d never heard of it until doing research for this article). For more information on (or to register) .int domains visit http://www.iana.org/int-dom/int.htm
Truly Generic TLDs
The remaining gTLDs are the true standard internet domains: .com, .net and .org. Although these were originally reserved as well (for commercial sites, networks, and non-profit organizations), all three have been deregulated over the last several years. Now anyone may register for and use these domains regardless of their country of residence or the purpose of their site. Thus, having lost their uniqueness, one cannot know what to expect when surfing toward a site housed on these domains.
The King of Domains: .com
The most prized addresses on the internet have .com TLDs. This is because .com is, by far, the most well known and best publicized TLD. The phrase “dot com” has entered the language with a vengeance and shows no sign of subsiding. Dot com stocks have taken over financial news reports, high-tech workers are referred to as dot commers, and I’ve even heard self-proclaimed Luddites refer to themselves as “not commers”. Essentially .com has become synonymous with the internet in the public consciousness.
As a result, .com has become the default, or assumed, top level domainname. Mega-sites like Yahoo and eBay no longer feel the need to include their TLD in advertising. People simply “know” it is there. The existence of internet keywords can, at least partially, be traced back to a porn site located at whitehouse.com that was regularly stumbled upon by people seeking information on the leader of the free world. Type almost any English word into the address bar of your browser and you will, most likely, be taken to thatword.com.
Unfortunately, the status of the .com TLD has a rather negative effect on newcomers to the internet: the vast majority of words, phrases and acronyms have already had their .com TLD registered. This leaves new arrivals with two basic choices: creative spelling or choosing another TLD.
A Close Second: .net
While originally limited to a collection of a dozen or more servers networked together the .net TLD is now home to thousands of site both large and small. The success of such ISPs as Earthlink.net and PacBell.net has helped increase the viability of .net domains. In fact the tendency to abbreviate “the internet” as “the net”has made this the preferred TLD of a number of businesses and organizations.
When I started my web hosting business I specifically sought out a .net domain to imply the company’s integral ties to the internet. Others use this TLD to imply that they are destinations for inter-personal networking. And .net remains the perfect designator for sites devoted to collecting links and basic information about those interested in a specific topic.
However, the common practice of registering the identical domain under the .com TLD (both Earthlink and Pacbell have done so) when available demonstrates the continued subservience of .net to its better known brother.
With thousands of domains being registered each day the availabilty of attractive .net names continues to shrink. If the name you’re interested in has been registered as a .com, but is still available as a .net I recommend you snatch it up quickly before you’re stuck with an even less appealing TLD.
The Also Ran: .org
The final standard TLD is also the least popular for several reasons. Originally used for private non-proft organizations, the .org TLD has remained truest to its roots with the majority of its current users continuing to be in this category.
Most obvious in the arguments against acquiring a .org TLD is the simple fact that it still implies organization in a person’s mind (when it implies anything at all). This is not suitable for personal homepages or business (which generally prefer to be perceived as “companies” rather than “organizations”). Additionally, .org is often difficult to pronounce and has a greater tendency to slip from a person’s mind then the previously discussed .com or .net TLDs.
Let’s look at www.norcalslam.org as an example. This site is essentially a calendar and information center for Northern California Poetry Slams. While not registered as a non-profit organization it is in no way a commercial site but rather is operated as a service to the performance poetry community. Choosing the .org TLD seems appropriate. However, the site is most often promoted verbally at open-mics, poetry readings and slams. Of the more than 100 shows where I have heard this site promoted it has been mis-promoted as norcalslam.com at least 90% of the time. Even when immediately corrected this leads to confusion amongst those hoping to devote the domain to memory so that they can visit the site later.
There are several dozen sites that will permit you to register standard domains. For a complete list visit http://www.icann.org/registrars/accredited-list.html
If you’re just looking to register one or two domains I highly recommend Dotster for the best combination of price, service and ease of use. (see my review at http://www.epinions.com/content_8950943364 )
If you’re planning on registering five or more distinct domain names the DotRegistrar is certainly the place to go (see my review at http://www.epinions.com/content_7453773444 )
The cost to register a standard domain ranges from $6.95/year to $35.00/year or more depending on which registrar you use and any additional services you require. The process itself is fairly easy and can take anywhere from five minutes to two weeks to be completed.
This is part three of a series of articles on domain registration also posted on epinions.com