Tots Getting Internet Identity at Birth

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By ANICK JESDANUN
The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 21, 2007; 8:32 PM

NEW YORK -- 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.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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