'.Info' Web domain addresses go live on the Internet

After months of preparations, a few Web sites are beginning to appear online with new .info top level domain addresses that can be visited using Internet browser software.

More than 52,000 .info domain names have been registered since July, according to Afilias Ltd., the company designated to maintain the Internet database of all .info addresses. Those new domains went live on Saturday, though they aren't necessarily yet online. Another 250,000 unique .info addresses are in the pipeline, waiting to be placed in the database so they may eventually be used by Internet visitors.

Heather Carle, an Afilias spokeswoman, said sites using .info designations have already been registered by major brands such as American Express Co., Budweiser, Dell Computer Corp., Wendy's International Inc. Restaurant and Nokia Corp. More than 60 percent of the world's top brands have already registered, she said.

The .info domain was approved last November by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a Marina del Rey, California-based nonprofit group that oversees domain name registrations and administration.

Since the new .info top level domain is endorsed by ICANN, the Internet Domain Name System infrastructure that allows visitors to access Web sites has been modified to recognize .info domains.

The .info domain is open to anyone who wants to register a Web site, unlike other domains that are restricted to organizations (.org), education (.edu), government (.gov) use or the military (.mil).

So far, many of the 52,245 sites that are now registered are neither built nor online, Carle said. Some sites, including Dell's .info site name, direct users to its .com Web site while the .info site is being prepared, she said.

The number of registrants so far is slightly lower than expected by the company, Carle said, because the latest registration period began September 12, the day after the terrorist attacks. The deadline for the latest round of registrations was extended until last Friday due to the attacks. Next month, open registrations will begin without any deadline restrictions.

Corporate users have expressed interest in the .info sites, she said, because they see them as places to provide broader information that is needed by customers and business partners.

"It's an opportunity for companies to market to customers in different ways," she said. The .info sites could be established as places for companies to dedicate their customer service information and policies, or to give access to additional product information beyond what is found at the .com corporate sites.

"It's intuitive because people know they will find information there," Carle said.

While Afilias is the registry for the .info domain, more than 70 companies act as registrars to collect applications and fees from companies and other users interested in obtaining a .info domain name. So far, those 70 registrars have received more than 700,000 applications from prospective site registrants. About 250,000 of those are uniquely chosen names, while the others are duplicate names. Each duplicate name will be awarded randomly from the applicants seeking that name. The remaining 250,000 unique Web sites will then be included in the .info registry on Thursday, Carle said.

Afilias was started last September and has an international headquarters in Dublin and its U.S. base in Newtown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia.

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