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It may get easier to find home pages on the Web

December 11, 1998
Web posted at: 11:30 AM EST

by Rob Guth


(IDG) -- Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) is the lead investor of a $13 million injection into a company that hopes to make it easier to find home pages on the Web, the firms announced yesterday.

NSI, Compaq Computer and Amerindo Investment Partners, said that they will invest approximately $13 million in Centraal which runs the RealNames service and is based in Palo Alto, Calif.

Unveiled in March, RealNames enables Web surfers to enter logical names associated with a Web site and avoid guessing a company's URL. The service is based on registered brand and trademark names and is run by a Centraal server. Centraal charges customers a fee to register their home pages with RealNames, meanwhile, users must download a browser plug-in to use the service.

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The new investment will be used to add more features to the service and expand its international presence, the companies said.

The announcement comes as Herndon, Virginia-based NSI is rapidly trying to fortify its position as the lead provider of domain names, the mnemonic tags such as applied to underlying numerical Internet addresses.

NSI, which operates under an agreement with the government, has been at the center of a battle over how to revamp the Domain Name System (DNS). Since NSI controls the .net, .org and, in particular, the popular .com top-level domains, many members in the Internet community argue the company has a monopoly on a valuable resource.

The government last month agreed to begin transferring management of the DNS to a Los Angeles, Calif.-based not-for-profit company. NSI, meanwhile, will likely become one of several companies offering top-level domains when its agreement with the government expires in September 2000.

NSI provided few details on what it will gain from its equity investment in Centraal or how it will use the RealNames service.

A statement issued by the companies said NSI sees RealNames as a "complementary service to our registration services business." NSI also said "the value in RealNames is that it drives traffic and navigating to specific Web pages."

One Internet insider had mixed reactions to the NSI-Centraal tie-up, pointing out that the legal framework underpinning trademarks is not international.

"While I applaud the intent, I am somewhat skeptical of the scalability of the RealName concept-trademarks are not necessarily unique, particularly on a global scale," said David Conrad, former head of one of the regional registries that allocates Internet address space.

"Trademarks are categorized in terms of geography and function, that is Acme can be a trademark simultaneously in Baltimore and in Seattle," Conrad said. "As RealNames become more widely used, there will be more and more trademark conflicts."

Rob Guth is Senior Asian correspondent for the IDG News Service.

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