Tots getting Internet identity at birth

Tots getting Internet identity at birth

By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet WriterTue Aug 21, 2007 8:32 PM ET

totsid.jpg

Mark and Corrie Pankow with their children, clockwise from upper
left,
Carter (6), Makenzie (9), Davis (3) and Sydney (5) in their home,
Sunday, Aug. 20, 2007 in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

Besides leaving the hospital with a birth certificate and a clean
bill of health, baby Mila Belle Howells got something she won’t likely
use herself for several years: her very own Internet domain name.

Likewise newborn Bennett Pankow joined his four older siblings in
getting his own Internet moniker. In fact, before naming his child,
Mark Pankow checked to make sure "BennettPankow.com" hadn’t already
been claimed.

"One of the criteria was, if we liked the name, the domain had to be
available," Pankow said. It was, and Pankow quickly grabbed Bennett’s
online identity.

A small but growing number of parents are getting domain names for
their young kids, long before they can do more than peck aimlessly at a
keyboard.

It’s not known exactly how many, but the practice is no longer
limited to parents in Web design or information technology.

They worry that the name of choice might not be available by the
time their babies become teens or adults, just as someone claimed the
".com" for Britney Spears’ 11-month-old son before she could.

The trend hints at the potential importance of domain names in
establishing one’s future digital identity.

Think of how much a typical teen’s online life now revolves around
Facebook or News Corp.’s MySpace. Imagine if one day the domain could
take you directly to those social-networking profiles, blogs, photo
albums and more.

"It is the starting point for your online identity," said Warren
Adelman, president of registration company GoDaddy.com Inc., which
sells basic domain name packages for about $9 a year. "We do believe
the domain name is the foundation upon which all the other Internet
services are based."

Hundreds of companies sell domain names with suffixes like ".com,"
".org" and ".info," which individuals can then link to personal Web
sites and e-mail accounts. Parents simply visit one of those companies’
Web sites, search for the name they want and, if no one else has
claimed it yet, buy it on the spot with a credit card.

There’s no guarantee, though, that domain names will have as central
a role in online identity. After all, with search engines getting
smarter, Internet users can simply type the name of a person into
Google.

"Given the pace of change on the Internet, it strikes me as a pretty
impressive leap of faith that we’re going to use exactly the same
system and the same tools … 15 to 20 years from today," said Peter
Grunwald, whose Grunwald Associates firm specializes in researching
kids and technology.

Still, even if the effort is for naught, $9 a year is cheap compared
with the cost of diapers and college tuition.

Besides providing an easy-to-remember Web address, the domain name
makes possible e-mail addresses without awkward numbers — as in
"JohnSmith24", because 23 other John Smiths had beaten your child to
Google Inc.’s Gmail service.

Parents not ready to commit or knowledgeable enough on how to buy a
domain, though, are at least trying their luck with Microsoft Corp.’s
Hotmail or Gmail.

Melissa Coleman of Springfield, Mass., grabbed Hotmail addresses for
her two kids. She said the kids’ grandparents occasionally send
e-greeting cards to those accounts, and she sends thank you notes for
gifts in her child’s voice.

"I think it’s great that it’s so loud and that it came with an
actual WORKING MICROPHONE … and I’m not sure what `annoying’ means,
but I’m sure it means that Mommy loves it too!!!!," read one message to
Grandpa.

She said she logs in at least once every month to keep the accounts
active and plans to save all messages for when her children get older.

Tony Howells, a business consultant in Salt Lake City, got a
Gmail address along with the domain name for his daughter, believing
people would enjoy seeing "an e-mail address pop up for an 8-month-old
who is obviously not equipped to use it."

Although some parents have yet to use the domain names they’ve
bought, others are sending visitors to baby photos, blogs and other
personal sites. Domain name owners have a variety of options to have
their personal sites hosted, typically for free or less than $10 a
month. They include baby-geared services like TotSites.com and
BabyHomePages.net.

Theresa Pinder initially received a domain name as a Christmas
gift from her son’s godparents and gives it out to friends and family
who want updates.

"People are like, `Wow. He already has his own Web site,’" said
Pinder, a physician assistant in Phoenix.

There are downsides to all this, though: An easy-to-remember
domain also makes a child easier for strangers to find. Chances are one
only needs to know a child’s name and add ".com."

Pankow, a database administrator in Phoenix, said that was one
concern keeping him from using the domains he bought for his five
children, including a 9-year-old daughter.

"I’d want to research and try to figure out how easy it is to
find out what school she goes to and where she lives" based on the Web
site and domain name, Pankow said.

GoDaddy and many other registration companies offer proxy
services that let domain name buyers register anonymously. Otherwise,
the person’s name, address and other contact information are publicly
searchable.

Notwithstanding the privacy concerns, Adelman said domain names
for kids have become more and more popular as parents start to get
domains for their business or family and realize how difficult it is to
find ".com" names not yet claimed.

But the numbers are still relatively low. Our Baby Homepage,
which lets parents set up personal baby pages with photos and
greetings, says only 10 percent of its customers have bought their own
domains. A similar service, Baby’s First Site, considered selling
domains for parents but didn’t get much interest.

Brian Vannoy, founder of TotSites, said parents might need more
lessons on safety measures such as how to password-protect sites. But
he believes the hurdles can be overcome once parents who are less-savvy
about technology see the benefits.

"It’s easy to remember," Vannoy said. "Everybody knows the new
baby’s name."

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