As Real Names goes kaboom, David Dorn wonders whether it really ever stood a chance
Have you ever had cause to use the Real Names service? The premise was simple ('was' because RN has now gone the way of all flesh) - you typed a 'real' name into the URL bar of your browser - perhaps 'Cadbury' - and you'd be whisked off to - wait for it - www.cadbury.com.
Well, obviously, Real Names thought so. And so did Microsoft, who signed an exclusive agreement to use the Real Names service in Internet Explorer (the very browser that underpins the AOL software you're using now). What's dogged Real Names is that MS canned the agreement a wee while back, leaving the alternative-to-a-proper-URL company with no backup plan for making money and a decided flat-on-the-back-and-not-breathing aspect. That is to say it's gone pop.
But hold the phone! Hang on! Was this not completely predictable? How many of us, when going to search for a web site, do not first try something like 'www.companyname.co.uk' or 'www.companyname.com' ? Even if that doesn't work, there's always the optional hyphen between words gambit, as in www.strange-brew.com .
Better yet, search engines have this strange habit of returning a myriad of sites that have something to do with the company you're looking for, when you type <companyname> into their search terms field.
Oafs and Dunderheads
Indeed, in my humble opinion, the premise upon which Real Names was founded ceased to exist a nanosecond after their domain was set up. That premise has always seemed to me to be that all web users are oafs and dunderheads who rarely have use of a brain cell. Now, patently, that's not the case.
Aside from the one obvious no-hoper who emailed me with the query 'What's the address for Microsoft's website?' most folks have the nous to at least try www.companyname.com or.co.uk. Enterprising Webmasters have even taken to registering all the .org, .net, .co.uk, and .com extensions for their sites, and even now are registering the .biz and .info extensions too, so that all you really need to remember is the company name or band name or whatever.
Private persons, on the other hand, are unlikely ever to have wanted to pay to have their www.freeisp.co.moon/~friendsoftheisp/users/fredbloggs/mywebpages style URL included in the Real Names service under Fred Bloggs.
Indeed not - they'd probably have nipped off to a domain name registering service and have www.fredbloggs.net pointed at their site - many AOL users have done exactly that kind of thing. It only costs a tenner or so - a far cry from the hundreds and thousands of dollars it would have cost with the now defunct service.
Maybe I'm being a tad harsh. In the early days of the Web, I suppose folks were facing a new and exciting challenge, and all these www and .com and what have you might have been so unfamiliar that a service like Real Names had something to offer - particularly to our cousins across the pond, who like this kind of thing.
But just as we Brits have little need of 'the Dummy's guide to striking a match' or labels on hair dye stating 'Caution - this product may change the colour of your hair' I suspect that nobody really needs a service such as Real Names provided.
Now, there are those who will tell you that once you've shaken hands with Microsoft on a deal you should count not only your fingers, but also your arms, legs and other necessary bits. They will also tell you that he who sups with devil needs a long spoon, and that you will be shafted by the evil empire eventually.
The mere fact that MS has cut off Real Names raison d'etre, and the VC money (all $100 million of it) has all run out now has no material effect on our day-to-day use of the Web. I suspect that of all our readers (and there are a great many thousands of you) less than a handful will have used the Real Names functionality, even though we all have had it.
So, even if MS hadn't pulled the plug, it would have had to have gone anyway, sooner or later. After all, even oafs and dunderheads wise up eventually!