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Name Recognition Is Virtually Essential

Internet * As users scramble to register vanity Web sites, enterprising domain brokers are getting into the act.


What's in a name? If you ask the owners of, and many other people who have registered their fairly common birth names as dot-coms, the answer is jealousy.

"Why the hell is there a Web site with my name?" one amazed visitor to wrote on the site's guest book.

"I can't believe you've wasted this on this content," whined another. "My name is Brian Frank and . . . [I'm] trying to start up my site and I see this."

"My name is also Brian Frank," a third visitor wrote, anchoring a string of messages from people who shared the same name. "I think that this site should be transformed into a portal" through which all Brian Franks can host their own Web pages. "Let's discuss."

When the 24-year-old owner of, a computer software manager from Menlo Park, registered his name with Network Solutions a little more than a year ago, the Cornell University graduate planned to use it for his resume. He hadn't anticipated meeting so many Brian Franks, fielding questions about whether he was someone's long-lost friend or having to apologize for registering the dot-com first, but that's the confusing situation many domain name registrants are finding themselves in as increasing numbers of people attempt to register vanity Web sites.

"It's a growing trend," said Erica Lin, marketing director for, one of 61 accredited and operational companies that register domain names with the international master domain name file maintained by Network Solutions in Herndon, Va. has processed more than 2 million of the estimated 20 million domains that are registered for periods of one to 10 years at a cost of about $35 annually. Lin would not reveal specific statistics but said her company has registered tens of thousands of personal-name dot-coms, dot-nets and dot-orgs.

"Domain names were initially thought of as businesses," she said, "but as more and more people get educated about [them] and what they can be used for . . . we've seen a lot more people registering their names."

How those people are using them ranges from the mundane to the shamelessly self-promotional to flat-out bizarre. John Dillon in Manitoba, Canada, uses his self-titled dot-com for the single purpose of posting photographs of his vintage Volkswagen bus (named Ulysses--the Mango Warrior) and the progress he's making on repairing its rusty roof.

Barry Jones uses his to promote a hypnosis practice. The site's opening page features an animated, swirling vortex that roams across the smiling mug of its creator, Barry Jones himself. Chris Johnson, the 29-year-old owner of, posts an extensive photo gallery of his family and friends, with pictures of himself dating back to kindergarten.

"It's just my stupid, personal Web page," said Johnson, who registered his first name only, believing that shorter is better. "I couldn't really think of anything else to do with it. That's really going to irritate a lot of people who want this domain name," said Johnson, a San Francisco computer consultant who paid nothing for the URL when he registered it five years ago. That was before so many businesses found commercial applications for the Internet.

"There's people that send me threatening e-mails that they want it, and they know where I live," said Johnson, whose personal information, like that of everyone else who registers a name, is logged as a "WhoIs" file through Network Solutions.

An Australian company once offered him $10,000 for it, but Johnson didn't bite. "I'm not interested in the money. I like having it," he said. "It's just a thing, and it's fun."

The $10,000 that Johnson was offered is a lot more money than Doug Friend thought a personal domain name could fetch. "I don't think there's gonna be the same market there as where you've seen '' selling for millions of dollars," said Friend, president of Register4Less, a domain name registration firm in Montreal. He had predicted a top price of $500.

Some people, however, have seen the potential. In 1995, Inc., a Reno company, began registering 12,000 surnames--which they say represent more than 70% of the U.S. population's last names--for its fee-based e-mail service. To date, the company has paid about $2.5 million to register and renew their rights to the names. "Personalizing the Internet" is the motto for this company that, for $9.95 a year, rents e-mail addresses that pair first and last names, i.e., and for $19.95 helps individuals post a Web page.

"The reason that name is attractive to me is not that I want people to recognize my name, but they can remember my e-mail address because my name is my address," said J.K. Hewlitt,'s chief financial officer.

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