RealNames hopes to ease surfing in Chinese

A deal between RealNames Corp. and a Chinese Internet services firm could eliminate the need for Internet surfers using the Chinese character set to remember long and cumbersome Web addresses.

RealNames on Friday signed a deal with HiChina Web Solutions Ltd., a Beijing, China-based company, to resell its keyword searches. HiChina, an Internet services firm, will register keywords in the Chinese character set and link them to Web sites in RealNames' keyword registry.

RealNames removes the need to type in addresses based on domain names by allowing companies to register simple keywords such as a company or brand name or a word relevant to a product or service. When users type in those words, they are linked to the Web sites of companies that have registered them.

The system will have many advantages, the companies said in a statement. The deal will make it easier for consumers using the Chinese character set to find products or companies online. Keywords will also allow Chinese companies to protect their brand names, the statement said.

RealNames has partnered with Microsoft to build keyword-based searches into Internet Explorer (IE) and MSN (Microsoft Network), said Vishesh Parikh, senior vice president for engineering, operations and IT at RealNames. After a keyword is typed into the address bar of IE, MSN's AutoSearch uses RealNames' registry, which has been integrated into AutoSearch's backend, to match the keyword to the Web site. The user is then redirected to the Web site.

The keyword search facility is available as a plugin for Netscape, Parikh said.

Though keywords make surfing easier, they will not replace the domain name system (DNS), Parikh said.

"Keywords are being positioned as an extension to DNS," he said, adding that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) views keywords as complementary to DNS.

Access to Web sites via keywords could overtake domain name-based access in the future, though it would take some time, Parikh said. "Keywords would be big if completely integrated into DNS," he said.

In addition to signing on HiChina, RealNames on Friday signed deals with more resellers in Europe: WebGravity and BusinessService PLC in the U.K.; Bookmyname and Domainoo in France; Euroidentity and Keywords EU in Belgium; Dada SpA and Gass SAS in Italy, and Abesee in Denmark.

RealNames currently offers keywords through 11 registries, which in turn resell keywords to registrars. RealNames offers keywords at a wholesale price of US$10 to registries. The registries then resell individual keywords to registrars for an annual fee of $50 per country.

Keyword-based searches stood at 100 million per month by the end of 2000, representing a 188 percent increase from the end of 1999, Parikh said. The biggest market for keywords is the U.S, he said, adding that the service is gaining traction in Asia and Europe.

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