Easy.com, easy go

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WANT TO register an inspiring name for your website? Chances are you're already out of luck. Shopping.com? Taken ages ago. News.com? Ditto. Inspiring.com? Wonderful.com? Splendid.com? Sorry, taken.

In fact the list of available, non-branded names available to would-be Web empire-builders is dwindling fast - and those left over are hardly attractive. (Attractive.com has gone too, by the way.)

Anyone, for example, want to stake a claim to bellyaching.com? or doddering.com? How about execrable.com, inadequacy.com or maladroit.com?

In fact compared to a standard English dictionary of 25,500 words, only 1,760 are still free, according to an analysis carried out by Declan McCullagh, an American journalist - who sensibly let a computer do the hard work, rather than typing in every word himself. The program queried a central database, held in the US, which lists all the .com "domains", to see which had already been registered that matched its list.

The attraction of the ".com" name for any company or individual (for anybody can register an unbranded name) is that it has a global currency on the Web. Getting the right one can be worth a lot of money: in June 1997 a London-based company, Business Systems International, made a profit of $150,000 (pounds 100,000) by selling its ownership of the rights to business.com to a company in Texas.

Although the original use of the ".com" suffix in e-mail systems was meant to indicate an exclusively American company, it has now become common for organisations and people from all over the world to register them because they do not carry a regional feel - unlike, say, "www.independent.co.uk", the Independent on Sunday's Web address, which identifies it as a company based in Britain.

In some cases, people buy domain names, which cost about pounds 100, as presents for friends. But with thousands of unbranded names having been snapped up, the remaining 1,760 describe a sort of Web hinterland - indicating, in their own way, the peculiar thought processes of people who register Web domains. What is indicated, for example, by the fact that "anarchic.com" has been taken but "oligarchic.com" has not? Why is it that monarchy.com was worth registering, but monarchic.com was not?

Still, one can see that a few sites might fit certain requirements. Featherbedding.com is still available, if any former European commissioners are interested; and it should ease your blood pressure measurably to know that sphygmomanometer.com has not yet been reserved.