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Netword lets you surf with keywords

With this new product you can forget the "dot-com" in URLs and use simple keywords instead--provided the Web site has paid a registration fee.

A new product lets Net users forget the "dot-com" in Net addresses, if they can remember a simple keyword.

Using Netword, you can type a single word, such as "Dilbert," into your Web browser location window, to be transported to "http://www.unitedmedia.com/comics/dilbert/." Surfers have to download the free Netword Agent software to use the new system.

But there's a hitch: the single keywords don't work unless Web sites have paid a registration fee to Netword. So when Netizens type in unregistered words, like "Netscape," they won't be sent to Netscape's homepage. Instead they'll be delivered to Netword's site, where a link may be provided. Netword is also touting a feature that lets companies apply keywords to multiple pages on their sites. But some logical keywords such as "Microsoft products" don't take surfers to any pages on Microsoft's site.

Although the latest Web browsers let you type in part of a site's name, like "pepsi.com," Netword aims to make surfing even easier. This tactic may gain popularity with the new generation of Net users who are less computer savvy. For example, WebTV targets non-PC users, and has a similar keyword system for finding Web sites.

Corporations, organizations and individuals can register their sites with Netword. The monthly fee is $1 for personal homepages and $5 per keyword for companies. But major corporations can pay $100 for 10 keywords to be applied to multiple pages within a Web site. There are additional charges for extra keywords. If a company's Networds get more than 50,000 hits per month, it will also pay additional fees.

While Netword would not say how many sites are registered, Shep Bostin, director of marketing, said the company has registered at least 26 Fortune 500 companies. "It's getting rapid corporate acceptance," he said.

The commercial growth of the Web has caused a slew of trademark disputes over Net addresses, such as "http://www.marilynmonroe.com." Trademark owners have sued Web sites for using the famous names of Monroe, a New York jazz club, and Esquire and the New Yorker magazines.

Netword could lead to similar trademark issues. For example, a Web designer could register the Netword "Apple Computer," and then point surfers to his Macintosh "tips" site.

But the creators of Netword say they have taken steps to avoid trademark conflicts. The site has a link to the U.S. Patents and Trademark registrar's list of more than 800,000 names, so visitors can verify whether their potential Netword is someone else's trademark. Also, Netword has set up a hierarchy as to who has precedent to register a word. Federal agency sites are registered Networds automatically. If a trademarked word is registered to a nonowner, the keyword will be revoked if challenged.

Netword has set aside up to 1,500 corporate trademarks so the companies will have first dibs to register their name.