If you're an American, you have a Social Security number. The number provides you with a quick way to identify yourself.
Well, computers work in a similar way. Most computers connected to the Internet have a unique identification number, called an IP address. An IP address identifies a computer on the Internet, and it lets other computers know where exactly to send it data.
For example, in a new browser window, type 126.96.36.199 in the address bar and press the enter key. See where it takes you?
You can reach most Web sites on the Internet by the IP address of the computer it's on. But Internet engineers figured out pretty quickly that no one wants to type "188.8.131.52" every time they want to go to Yahoo. So they invented domain names.
A domain name is a human-friendly substitute for a computer's IP address. All the "www..." addresses you type in, like www.pbs.org, are domain names.
Computers still communicate with numbers, so when you type in www.pbs.org, a domain name server will look up the domain name and find the IP address associated with it. (The way this works is a little technical, so we won't get into it here.)
Just as no person can have the same Social Security number, no computer can have the same IP address...or domain name. That's why if you want to register a domain name, you'll have to check first to see if it's taken.
Is Your Name Taken?
Do you want to find out if someone has registered your name? Here's how to do it. Search for "domain name lookup" in your favorite search engine. You should get several links to sites that let you look up domain names. Click on one of the links.
1. At the site, look up your full name (e.g., www.peterpiper.com). Is it taken?
2. What about just your first name and last name (e.g., www.peter.com, www.piper.com)?
3. For fun, look up anything that pops in your mind (e.g., household objects, advertising slogans, your favorite zoo animal). How obscure do you have to get before you find names that aren't taken?
SDTV Internet Contest
What's the most unusual domain name you found that was already taken? Email the weirdest name you can find and we'll enter you in a contest for a terrific prize. Send your entries to email@example.com , subject: Crazy Domain Name Contest. We'll also post the top weirdest names on our Web site at www.StandardDeviants.com. Good luck!