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Internet

Two ways to simplify Web addresses

A system of simplifying addresses may be on its way to widespread use thanks to a pair of recently proposed Web standards.

A system of simplifying Web addresses may be on its way to widespread use thanks to a pair of recently proposed Web standards.

The Internet Engineering Task Force this week took under consideration proposals by Centraal and Network Solutions (NSI) that would standardize the way firms replace Web addresses, or uniform resource locators, with common or proper names.

The NSI proposal would establish what the company calls "human friendly identifiers," while the Centraal proposal would standardize the use of "human friendly names." Both add up to essentially the same thing, according to Centraal chief executive and founder Keith Teare, who noted that the authors of the two proposals spoke frequently on the subject in the process of writing their drafts.

With Centraal's current RealName system, a database matches up URLs with common or proper names for firms, groups, or individuals who pay to be included. For example, a Web page on a certain car model could have as its RealName address the name of the car, rather than a full URL.

Centraal hopes to establish an IETF-approved standard to make the use of its technology more widespread. Currently the search and directory site AltaVista offers the RealName service, as does LookSmart.

But Centraal's Holy Grail is supported by browser software made by Netscape Communications and Microsoft.

Both Netscape's Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer provide some means of entering keywords into the address bar of the browser to yield either specific Web sites or directory listings through the firms' search and directory sites. Netscape's system in particular has drawn attention because it trumps an older feature of the browser that would resolve generic keywords to the site that had that word as its domain.

Teare acknowledged similarities between the Netscape system and RealNames, but said the former fell short because it is only available to Navigator users, and only Netscape can decide how keywords are resolved.

Centraal is betting that a standards-based system would popularize the use of RealNames enough to offset risks of giving up control over its technology.

"Are we ceding the space to others? No. We're seeking to make the technology a standard to gain acceptance from browser makers and search sites," Teare said. "That's the main focus, rather than encouraging others to jump into the space."

Under its proposal to the IETF, Centraal would yield the technology for its system, but would maintain ownership of its own RealName database. Others, however, could establish their own databases for specific categories of names--such as movie titles or patents and trademarks--that potentially would compete with Centraal's listings.

"As of today, we're the only people doing this," Teare said. "But as this matures, it's quite likely that the name spaces will segment and become much more highly organized."

But even if the naming market splinters, users will have access to all the various databases under the proposed standard, Teare said.

The proposals from Network Solutions and Centraal join other efforts under way at the IETF related to Web addressing, which fall under the category of uniform resource names, or URNs.