1. Sharing domain names
Some companies are finding that sharing domain names is a viable alternative to selecting a second-rate name. An early example of this tactic is disc.com. As stated on their mutual web page, "In the spirit of Internet cooperation, these two companies known as DISC are sharing this intermediate home page. Please choose the company of interest." In addition, there are logos and brief descriptions of each company to help the user differentiate between the two. Another example is the scrabble.com page. The rights to the scrabble trademark are divided: Hasbro has trademark rights to Scrabble in the US while Mattel owns trademark rights to Scrabble outside the United States. Mattel initiated a suit, but the parties settled on sharing an introductory page that allows the user to link to either <hasbroscrabble.com> or <mattelscrabble.com>.
While sharing domain names may work for some companies with legitimate
competing claims to domain names, this strategy has not been widely adopted
and the need for additional alternatives remains.
2. Internet Keywords
Internet Keywords allow a user to type company names or trademarks, rather than URLs, into the locator box on a browser. The system will then direct the user to the appropriate web page. It is designed to be an end run around the domain name system. There are two different versions of Internet Keywords available today. The first is a proprietary system that requires subscription, works with Internet Explorer, and is run by RealNames. The second is a free system developed and run by Netscape.
A. RealNames - A Proprietary Internet Keyword System
How it works:
In order for the RealNames system to locate an organization using a keyword, the organization must register for a RealName. To do so, the organization must log on to the RealNames site, check the availability of a name and pay a fee to register the word if it is available. Small companies generally pay $100 per registered name per year. Fees for larger companies, or those with a larger Internet presence, are customized based on the number of registered names and clickthroughs. Once a RealName is registered, when a customer enters a word in a RealNames-enabled browser, the request is sent to the RealNames server. If a company hasn't registered a RealName, the main screen will indicate that there is no web address that matches your search.
Companies have to subscribe and pay for yet another service. Although the system works fairly well, the fact that it requires subscription is a problem. If a company has not subscribed for a RealName the system will not be able to link the customer to the site. Generally this problem is solved by the placement of AltaVista top ten search results in a frame on the right side of the screen. In many cases, the AltaVista search will come up with the desired link even if the company has not subscribed for a RealName. This does not always work, however. Additionally, RealNames only works with Internet Explorer 5.0 and thus is limited in its application. It has, however, been adopted by a number of search engines such as Altavista and the GoNetwork and the company has partnered with registrars including NSI and register.com
Most importantly, this system doesn't resolve the uniqueness issue.
A registered RealName is a unique identifier and can point to only one
B. Smart Browsing - Netscape's Internet Keyword System
How it works:
If a customer types a word (rather than a URL) into the locator box of a Keywords enabled browser, the computer will send the word to the Internet Keywords system at Netscape. The Keywords system matches those words to a URL and redirects your browser. Generally, typing a trademark or brand name will send you directly to the site for that product, service or company. However, this system does address the uniqueness problem. If the system can't match the word you typed to one specific web page, it will give you a page of search results on that word. For instance typing in United brought up a list of companies that have a United trademark (seven sites are listed). It also lists the United gTLD domain name holders.
Smart Browsing works with Communicator 4.06 or above. Netscape also provides a "tune-up" for Internet Explorer that will enable a user to utilize Netscape Internet Keywords from IE. No subscription is necessary for this system. The Keywords system is based on the Internic domain database, so if any trademarks are registered as domain names they should be included in the system. Unlike RealNames, there is no separate registration for the Keywords system, and of course, there is no separate fee. Although there are concerns about how this system works, almost all tests and searches were successful. Even typing in "Internet Explorer" leads directly to the Internet Explorer page located at <http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/>.
It is unclear how Netscape's database works and whether it would include a parody or commentary site that uses a domain name similar to a trademark. In essence this allows Netscape to play "God."
3. Beyond Simple Fixes
Going beyond some of the alternatives that are currently being explored, the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Research Council will be undertaking a study on alternatives to Internet Addressing and the Domain Name System. Their goal is to analyze possibilities for restructuring the whole system. The study will review technical alternatives and their policy implications. According to CSTB staff, the study will probably begin in January 2000, and will be completed in 12-15 months. It is possible, therefore, that within 2 years there will be a proposal that will completely restructure the current Internet addressing system, making domain names obsolete.