Second site Play the name game

YOU MAY have noticed that Second Site's e-mail address has been streamlined. Out with the jerky old drum-roll of "pop3.poptel.org.uk", in with "poptel.net", euphonious and international. This feature has, in short, been rebranded. And in doing so, it has moved between the two senses of the word "domain", from maths to magic.

There are two kinds of addresses on the Internet: real ones and aliases. The real ones are the numbers used by the machines when they communicate with each other. To make the Net a more human place, these names have been given verbal aliases, most ending in ".com". Each element of these names is called a "domain" (not some romantic fancy, but a mathematical term familiar to the engineers who set up the system). A few years ago, people coming to the Net for the first time were faced with addresses - or URLs (uniform resource locations) - which put German compound nouns in the shade. These addresses specified the Net equivalent of flat number, house number, street, district, town and postcode.

But the hordes of ".coms" which now dominate the Web have trampled over the engineers' train set. A useful new anthology, ReadMe! (Autonomedia, pounds 15), includes an essay by Ted Byfield, whose discussion of the Domain Name System, or DNS, appeared on the Rewired site last year.

The ".coms", observes Byfield, see a Web address not as a detailed specification of where a file can be found, but as a means of projecting a brand. Web addresses are now terse and memorable. The domains evoked are mythical; not dragons and knights, but Pepsi and MTV.

There are now about six million registered names, according to registry organisation NetNames. The DNS is feeling the strain, with proposals and comments shuttling across the skeins of bureaucracy which administer the Net.

Much of the debate concerns the "top-level domains" (TLDs) - such as ".com" - which go at the end of an address. The system is inconsistent and probably inadequate. While institutional TLDs such as the ".edu" used by American universities are properly assigned, the 249 country codes, two-letter TLDs such as ".uk", are not. Americans hardly ever use their ".us", preferring to tag everything ".com" even if it has nothing to do with commerce. And some codes have achieved a popularity out of all proportion to the country's importance. Turkmenistan has ".tm", which appeal to companies wanting to emphasise their trademarks. The South Pacific island of Tuvalu rejoices in the code ".tv". Another island, Niue (population 2,200), has about 30,000 names registered under its domain ".nu".

Dots on the map can make a nice little sideline out of selling dots on the Net, thanks to the International Standards Organisation, which assigns country codes. One company seeking the franchise to administer the Tuvalu TLD is reported to have offered the island's government $50m. Other domain dealers rely on the success of the ".com" brand. A website called Domain Alley recently claimed to have sold "director.com" for $20,000.

Last year the US government tried to wean its Netizens off their ".com" obsession by proposing new TLDs such as ".arts" and ".shop". But it was blocked by the European Union, which objected to the way the US assumed it controlled the Internet. Meanwhile, ".com", ".org" and ".net" remain vaguely defined. The latter should denote a provider of network services, a description that could just be applied to this column, but not to Liverpool FC, which has managed to wangle itself a ".net".

Telephone numbers had exchange names before area codes, and communications did not suffer when names were replaced with numbers. The spirit of the Net is different, though. One of the US's suggested new TLDs was ".nom", for names. Now if they changed that to ".ego", we could have the next great Internet boom on our hands.

Visit www.poptel.org.uk/secondsite for links to pages mentioned or contact Marek Kohn on secondsite@poptel.net

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy