URLS you can understand

Imagine being able to type plain-English names into your browser's URL line instead of long strings of cryptic characters. Then imagine being taken immediately to the page you want instead of to a list of pages that merely mention the document, as search engines often do.

That's the vision motivating a new effort inside the Web's governing organisation, the Internet Engineering Task Force, to standardise such names.

The proposed standard, the Common Name Resolution Protocol, is intended to provide the behind-the-scenes links between typed-in words and the URLs that identify Internet resources.

The types of Web databases that use the name as a keyword will determine which pages are returned, as will user-identified topical interests, says Michael Mealling, a co-author of the proposed standard and a senior research engineer at Network Solutions, the company that issues ".com" names.

Search and find . . . what

Most browsers already let you type regular words into the URL line, but there's a big hitch. "Right now, every browser does it differently," Mealling says.

If browser and portal makers and companies that publish information on the Web adopt the new protocol, words will have a standard meaning within categories, though not necessarily across the entire Web. Typing the word apple, for example, might produce a list of Web pages from Apple Computer and apple orchards, but Apple Computer employees using the company's intranet browser might receive only company-related pages.

"CNRP doesn't guarantee uniqueness of the names," Mealling says, but it should help popularise common names by broadening their "market share".

Common names could eventually be used to reference such information as stock quotes, phone numbers, and product names. In addition, the CNRP standard would unify common names already being used by RealNames, NetWords, America Online KeyWords, MSN Autosearch, Netscape Navigator Smart Browsing, and CompuServe's Go Words. (Representatives from some of those companies are on the IETF standards committee.)The IETF will likely assign CNRP to an official working group by this fall, Mealling says, with the final standard taking about a year to hammer out. Web and software companies would then have to decide whether to adopt the protocol.

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David Essex

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