RealTime IT News

Keywords: The Internet's Next Frontier?

One company is hoping to cash in on businesses who want to reach Web surfers tired of typing in 24-character-long URLs with a Keyword search offering that sits on top of the Domain Name System (DNS), officials announced Friday.

But whether this system will simplify the Net or just add more confusion to an already-muddled Internet naming system remains to be seen.

RealNames, a worldwide company with registrar and Internet service provider (ISP) partners throughout the world, sells popular words, which are then given preferential treatment on Microsoft's Internet Explorer keyword search engine.

The two service offerings, Keywords Plus and Basic Keywords, are touted as a value-added solution for small-, mid- and large-sized businesses around the world who want to get their product out, but don't want customers to have to wade through a sea of Web addresses to reach their destination. The service is also used around the world by countries that want to adopt their language's unique character sets into the Keyword search.

When the customer gets their Keyword approved, after a four-day review process conducted by a RealName staff member, the Keyword will point to their domain address. Officials say the process makes it easier for the business owner to market their product, while making it even easier for the Web surfer to find the product they want.

Now, instead of IE users typing in www.hitmewithyourbestshot.com (it's still available), the intrepid Web surfer can just type in the name of the product, service or company into the IE address toolbar to get directed to the appropriate Web site.

Currently, the service is only available on IE and NeoPlanet.

Keith Teare, RealNames founder and chief executive officer, said the service is gaining ground worldwide as companies and people see the growing need to simplify the 'Net.

"We've made major progress toward global adoption of RealNames Keywords as the Internet's next-generation naming system," Teare said. "The intense worldwide demand for Keywords shows that consumers want to navigate the Internet using simpler, more intuitive Web addresses based on brand and product names that work in their local languages and character sets.

With 45 partners throughout the world in 31 countries, it's a service that is taking off in a big way. The service, started in 1998 with 100,000 registered Keywords, has made its way past one million and has more than 30,000 businesses signed up to the offering.

It's also turning into a lucrative business for the Redwood, CA-based company. In addition to a undisclosed Keyword review fee assessed against every Keyword submitted, RealNames customers are charged an annual fee to keep the Keyword under their thumb. For Keywords Plus, the fee is $299 per year, while the Basic Keywords service runs for $49 a year.

Uday Sodhi, chief operating officer at Net4India, the country's largest ISP, said the service has increased sales at his company and shows no sign of letting up.

"The Internet naming business in India has grown multifold in the last two years and Keywords are expanding the market even further," Sodhi said. "We are excited about the prospects Keywords offer our customers and believe Keywords will become the next standard in Internet naming."

What's worrisome about the RealNames product is that it could well become the next naming standard on the Internet, putting corporate control over the rights to copyrighted names and products.

Ostensibly, the review process is designed to keep a new generation of "cybersquatters" from claiming popular names and products, but there is no way to guarantee the Keyword service adheres to any naming standard.

Officials were unavailable for comment on the details of their Keyword review process, a process that could put the rights to copyrighted material like "Pepsi" or generic words like "business" in the hands of the first buyer.