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Master of Your Web Domain

Master of Your Web DomainByline: Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Getting a domain name -- a personalized Internet address -- is now cheap and easy. That's good, considering how many Internet providers have gone under or switched subscribers' e-mail addresseses; a personal domain name means you should never have to send out those "change of address" e-mails anymore.

But finding a good domain name that's also available is a little tricky. So is picking a domain registrar, the company that will maintain your little chunk of the Internet.

Not all of the good domain names have been taken, but in the most popular category -- names ending in ".com" -- things are getting crowded. NetNames ( ) reports 21,274,294 ".com" names as of Friday.

You can check a domain's availability at the Web site of VeriSign's domain-registration subsidiary ( ). Is it taken? Brainstorm with the help of name-finding tools at VeriSign ( ) and competing registrar Dotster ( ). Each site generates a list of available domains, based on up to three key words.

Also consider using a top-level domain besides ".com." Try ".net" and ".org," which aren't as popular. Neither are newer options, such as ".us," ".info" or ".biz." Or try an international domain, like ".ca" for Canada, although many registrars only offer domestic names.

Not all domain names are as good. Your name should be easy to say and spell. You should also stay away from names with specific dates or addresses; looks so 1999 today.

Once you've got a domain name you love, or can live with, you need to register it. A while back your choice was easy: You used Network Solutions (since purchased by VeriSign), the sole authorized registrar. Today, you have a much wider choice of registrars and resellers, all of whom offer access to the same basic thing.

Start shopping at RegSelect ( ), an independent guide to domain registrars. It tracks prices for single and multiple-year registrations and notes which extras each company offers.

What should you look for? Price is one thing to consider: You should never pay more than $35 a year, and you can wind up paying a lot less. How much less? Go Daddy ( ) will sell you a ".net," ".com" or ".org" address for $8.95 a year. Stargate ( ) charges $7.95 for an ".info" domain or $13.95 for ".com," ".net" or ".org."

You probably won't need customer service very often, but you won't want to do without it, either. Just look over the company's site. Does it make clear what services are offered? Does it include helpful tools and lists of frequently asked questions that address your concerns?

Next, see how customers can contact the registrar. If you have questions, call or e-mail -- and if the company takes too long to answer, chances are it will take even longer to answer your technical-support questions.

Finally, it's probably better to go with a company with a track record. Registrars come and go like mayflies, and it would be nice to use one that will be around when you renew the domain registration in a year or two.

All that effort, though, just means you've "parked" a domain name. That doesn't get you a new Web or e-mail address.

Many people already have Web sites and e-mail addresses -- just under somebody else's domain. The answer for most home users is not to pay for additional Web hosting or e-mail accounts but to set up domain forwarding -- a much cheaper extra.

In this case, the registrar "redirects" requests for the new Web address to an existing Web page and forwards e-mail addressed to the new domain to your regular account. Other users need never know the difference; most e-mail programs let you change your return address to the new domain. (A handful of Internet providers, such as Verizon, won't let subscribers send mail with personal domain names.) This way you can keep your existing Web and e-mail setup as you introduce your new Internet identity.