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NSI teams with Centraal on Web names

The two Internet addressing systems join forces in what promises to be a formidable alliance to govern the naming of Web pages.

Two Internet addressing systems have joined forces in what promises to be a formidable alliance to govern the naming of Web pages.

Network Solutions (NSI) and Centraal, the creator of the RealNames Web page addressing system, today announced a marketing and investment deal under which NSI will invest $4.2 million in Centraal and distribute subscriptions to RealNames.

NSI long has held a government-granted monopoly for the assignment of domain names, Web addresses that end in suffixes including .com, .org, and .net. Centraal has a database of Internet keywords that firms license for $100 per year. These keywords let Web users type in a single name rather than a complete URL. For instance, the RealName "Volkswagen" takes users directly to ""

In addition to investing in Centraal's Series B preferred stock offering, NSI will have the option to acquire just under a 20 percent stake in the company. NSI also will have a seat on the Centraal board, and the companies will each send a member to the other's technical board.

Some have viewed Centraal's naming system as a threat to the now-crucial importance of NSI's domains. If RealNames were to gain the ubiquity Centraal seeks, more consumers likely would access Web sites through RealName's single-word commands than through the more complicated URL-based addresses.

But in today's announcement, the companies spoke of the alliance as a mutually beneficial marriage.

NSI and Centraal represent "the yin and yang of the name space," said Doug Wolford, senior vice president of marketing and sales at NSI. "There will always be more Web pages than domain names, and now we have a way of naming all those Web pages as well as those Web sites.... It's an almost limitless opportunity to name those Web pages."

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That limitless opportunity comes to the NSI/Centraal alliance at a time when the government-sponsored NSI monopoly is set to open up to competing domain name registries. A nonprofit corporation known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has U.S. government authority to set up over the next two years a new system for governing the Net's technical infrastructure, and for letting other registrars break into Network Solutions' business.

Analysts predicted that NSI will preserve a de facto monopoly on domain name registrations even after competing registries enter the market. The alliance with Centraal is expected to solidify NSI's already firm grip on Internet naming.

NSI and Centraal have some history of technical cooperation. In October, for example, the two companies simultaneously submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) two similar proposals on simplified Web addresses. At the time of the announcement, the companies acknowledged that the authors of the proposals had collaborated to some degree.

The IETF will take up the topic of Web site naming tomorrow at its conference in Orlando, Florida.

The NSI deal is a big boost for Centraal, whose goal of becoming a universal provider of simplified Web addresses hinges on distribution. Currently, only about 15,000 RealNames have been registered. But when NSI's premier partners--primarily Internet service providers and Web hosting firms--begin marketing registrations to their customers, that database is expected to balloon. These partners include UUNet, Mindspring, Earthlink, and Microsoft and Netscape Communications toward that end.

Centraal said also that its system overrides similar keyword functions in Netscape's Communicator browser, as well as autocomplete functions in Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.

In addition, the company today announced two other investment wins that may help with the distribution of its technology. Centraal said that it has received funding from Compaq Computer and Amerindo Investment Advisors, which, along with the NSI investment, totals just under $13 million. The relationship with Compaq may lead to distribution on Compaq desktops, Centraal said today, but no definite plans have been announced.

As for revenue-sharing, NSI will take an undisclosed cut of the $100 yearly RealName registration fee. NSI also will receive compensation for customer support, which it will assume from Centraal.

Amerindo is an investor in publisher CNET: The Computer Network.