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How to Get Your Own Internet Name

Washington Post, April 18, 2004

William Hung has one. So does Courtney Love. Why shouldn't you, too, have own your personal Web address -- a www.YOUR-NAME-HERE.com? A personal domain name, as Internet addresses are called, can serve as both a Web site address and the latter part of an e-mail address (the part after the "@"). They're boss and useful: For a small yearly fee, friends and family will always know where to reach you. And if you have a hobby or job that calls for self-promotion, such as writing or photography, a personal Web site is a major signifier of credibility. Here's how to become a master of your own domain.

NAME YOUR BABY. Think up your dream Net address. It should be short and memorable, though not so obvious that someone else hasn't thought of it first (say, www.steve.com). Most registrars offer a "Whois" service for checking if names are taken (www.internic.net/whois.html). If you're stuck, consider some of the lesser-known suffixes, such as .info or .name, which are still largely unpopulated.

MAKE IT LEGAL. Registering a name is as easy as going to a Web site and filling out a form. Until a few years ago, Network Solutions (www.networksolutions.com) was the only game in town. It charges $35 a year, with discounts for multiple years. Through the wonders of deregulation, other registrars -- such as Go Daddy (www.godaddy.com), which offers .com domains for $6.95 a year -- now offer lower fees. But be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. According to Robert Parsons, president of Go Daddy, domain names usually cost the registrars themselves about $6 a year. Those charging less make up the difference with other services -- meaning you may end up spending more.

FIND A HOST. Now that you've registered, it's time to find a home online. A typical Internet service provider (ISP), such as America Online, will offer five or 10 megabytes of free storage space for a Web site -- barely enough to hold a résumé and a few sets of vacation photos. If that's enough space for you, all you need is a domain name forwarding service. For about $10 a year, that service will forward any e-mail that comes to your domain address straight to your home mailbox. The drawback? Although you have rights to the domain name you've registered, the actual Web site address will probably be a long, unwieldy one with the prefix of your ISP. So sign up for a service that lets Web surfers type in your shorter address and still be forwarded to your ISP-provided address. P4Host (www.p4host.com) and RegisterFly (www.registerfly.com) are recommended by members of DC.Sage, a local group of computer system administrators.

PREPARE FOR GROWTH. If you need more space than the standard five or 10 megabytes, look for a Web hosting company, which will offer 50 or 100 megabytes of Web site storage, as well as e-mail forwarding. Thanks to a fiercely competitive market, many companies offer nearly identical deals. Tech site CNet offers recommendations for Web hosts (reviews.cnet.com/2001-6540_7-0.html?tag=top). For about $8 to $12 a month, expect plenty of space and an easy-to-use interface for updating your Web page.

--Joab Jackson