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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Internet

It's a smaller World Wide Web after all

A new study finds there are fewer sites online as people stop registering new Web addresses and abandon some old ones that come with fees attached.

The number of sites on the Internet has slipped along with a recent decline in registrations of addresses ending in domains such as .com, according to a study released this week.

The Web Server Survey from Internet consultancy Netcraft found that the number of Web sites dropped by 182,142 from November to December last year. That decline marks only the second time the company's survey, first released in 1995, has found fewer sites online in a monthly period.

Although the drop may seem insignificant considering the more than 36 million sites found online, the survey highlights a shift in Web address renewals. Netcraft attributed last month's drop to the decline in new domain name registrations; it also found that some current Web addresses are being abandoned.

"The drop-off in people renewing domains that they probably registered two years ago is exceeding new domain name registrations now," said Mike Prettejohn, director of Netcraft.

Many domain names registered in 1999 and 2000 were obtained free as part of a hosting deal, but a slew of companies have begun charging for such services. As people who have been running Web sites for free come to the end of their domain name contracts, which typically last two years, many are forced to determine whether a site is worth the price.

For example, maintaining a domain name through registry Network Solutions costs between $25 and $50 a year; the company will provide Web hosting services, including a domain name, for $49.95 to $198.95 annually. It also offers advanced hosting services with e-commerce features for businesses.

Roland LaPlante, chief marketing officer for Pennsylvania-based domain name registry Afilias, said he was not surprised to find some people and companies are giving up their Web addresses.

"There's a temporary sort of cleaning out of the system if you will, ridding it of the promotional names that were registered as part of the promotional activity back in 1999 and 2000," LaPlante said.

Netcraft reported the first drop in domains last summer, when the number of Web sites fell by 523,968 because of failures or business model changes at several mass hosting companies and the aftermath of the Code Red virus.

The company's latest findings come as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which sets the standards for Web addresses, attempts to expand the number of domain name suffixes. In 2000, ICANN added seven suffixes--.museum, .biz, .info, .aero, .name, .coop and .pro.--and chose a handful of companies to administer them. But the new addresses have become caught in a web of setbacks, including launch delays and legal tangles.

Despite such setbacks, Netcraft said the new addresses will help offset the decline seen last month. LaPlante, whose registry operates the .info top-level domain, said Afilias so far has registered 675,000 .info names. NeuLevel, which launched its registry for .biz addresses in November, said it has logged more than 500,000 names.

"The introduction of the new domains like .biz, and increasing Internet development in parts of the world, will counter the abandonment of existing domains," Netcraft's survey read. In addition, "many domains will be renewed providing an increase in business compared to earlier this year, just not at the amazing levels of two years previously."