Namespace Vs. Domain Names

Anand Ramchandran

While you are busy optimizing your pages for Google, there's a raging controversy over the future of search and browser usage. Microsoft has put in a patent for "Flexible Keyword Searching." What does this mean, and what effect is its application likely to have?

Namespace is a system or alternative technology for web browsers which allows a user to type a name or keyword phrase into their browser instead of a domain name, or instead of using a search engine to find websites or companies associated with that name or term or keyword.

What this means is that if you want to find a company which sells adult content, all you have to do is type "adult content" into your browser's address bar and you will be taken, like it or not, to the company which has purchased the relevant keyword. Think of it as like having a search engine built into your browser, the only difference is, there's no real choice: If you type in "adult content," there's only one website you are going to end up on every time.

There are two parties involved in the setup of this service: the company which provides the browser, i.e. Microsoft, Netscape, etc. and the company which sells these keywords to websites and other companies. For example: Realnames (now defunct) affiliates itself with Microsoft to provide a browser plugin, so that when someone types "adult content" into their browser, rather than or someone else providing a selection of suggestions to choose from, the browser is automatically redirected to the website of the company which has purchased the keyphrase "adult content" from Realnames.

Consider these scenarios: Let's say there are two or more name providers. Let's say that Microsoft has it's own and Netscape has tied up with "XYZ." The Microsoft IE user types in "adult content," and he goes straight to AEBN. The Netscape user types in "adult content" and he goes straight to Webmastercentral. Other, smaller, content providers stand no chance of being found this way. Even more dangerous, let's say that AEBN purchased names from both Microsoft and Netscape; every user would go straight to AEBN.

This is Microsoft's strategy for dealing with Google. They tested the system with Realnames and now they're developing their own system, which they have patented – "Flexible Keyword Searching" – so now Microsoft will likely end up as the only name provider for browsers, adding one more nail in the coffin for Netscape and Google.

Will Surfer's Use This Feature?
Which one would you prefer: Simply typing "adult content" into your browser, or typing, waiting for Google's site to come up, then typing "adult content" in the search bar, and waiting for the results to appear. Now you have to go through all of the results, click on a few listings, and then end up somewhere you don't want to be, repeating the process and suffering a few popups along the way, hoping that maybe you'll find the right website?

Most people I know would prefer the first option; only people who want to do a lot research before buying something will use the second option, especially if the first choice is certified and guaranteed by Microsoft to be the right website for that particular product or keyword.

Potential Problems
This tactic fits the pattern of Microsoft killing competition and free choice: Anyone with Microsoft gains, and anyone on the other side can close shop and find a new job. There are a lot of possible problems with making this implementation a reality. Most important is the lack of choice to the user. Inside such a vast Internet, you cannot have all users going to the same website for a particular keyword. Also, there is a problem concerning generic keywords. What happens if namespace operators start handing out keywords like "sex"? As an example, if buys the keyword, then the rest of us can pack up and go home. It's logical to consider that anybody with a brand name is going to buy up all the keywords associated with his brand. The block-a-domain game is nothing compared to what would happen if namespace were to be implemented.

What's Actually Happening
Microsoft is working on this concept and will likely implement it to a degree, meaning that they won't allow users to be sent directly to websites who have purchased keywords, but instead, they will send users to relevant listings in MSN Search. This way they can't be accused of killing consumer choice, while they still make money by sending people to their own search engine.

Google is probably working feverishly to find a way out of this mess. I mean, if a user can find the same listings without all the typing and searching, why would he bother with Google? If Microsoft implements this strategy, consider the chain: Windows - MS Internet Explorer - Keyword sale to advertisers - MSN Search revenue. They leave no space for a competitor to squeeze in. Even though I hate their monopolistic ass, I have to admire their strategy. Here is a related story on how "Microsoft may be illegally entering the search market." ~ Anand