OK, it's like this. The Internet is about to have its most substantial overhaul ever - in 2010, if current plans come to fruition, domain name registration is going to change. ICANN, the authority that polices domain names, is about to make substantial alterations. We'll be able to register loads of new domains like .microsoft instead of microsoft.com, or .plumber, or whatever. The idea is that it's going to be easier to find your way around. It's going to be priced to exclude the time wasters as there will be a lot of checking and verification; Microsoft, NatWest and the rest will no doubt consider $180,000 worth paying for their name, I won't mind that much if someone else gets .clapperton.
Ultimately this is designed to help, although the fact that only a handful of businesspeople are aware of the change is a source of concern.
Other things are happening to protect online identities, too, in some cases concerning social networking. Facebook is about to start offering reserved and confirmed names for celebrities and brands, so I might as well admit right now I'm not Elvis Presley. Or Bill Gates. Twitter is going to do the same with verification - you won't have fake David Tennants on Twitter any more.
All of which is fine, and as a soon to be published author I might eventually have need to confirm that I am indeed who I claim I am. There are two practical issues, though. First, I might be happy to verify who I am online but quite honestly I don't much fancy paying for the privilege. I'm no less Guy Clapperton now than I will be when Twitter says I am, and it's going to be interesting watching them persuade people to hand cash over for a name which might not have immediate commercial value (for me as an author I can see it being worth a few quid, reluctantly; people with no real investment in their name as a brand will feel differently).
Second is the issue of what happens if they can pull this off for free, and good luck to them if they can. My name is actually more unusual than it sounds - there aren't as many Clappertons in the phone book as you might guess from the unremarkable 'ton' ending; I'm reasonably persuaded there aren't many Guy Clappertons likely to challenge my right to register it as my name on the Web.
What, though, if my name were John Smith? Under the rules from people like Twitter, will I have less of a shout because of the common-ness of a simple name? That hardly seems fair.
I have no doubt people like Google and Twitter have thought this one through, and I'm sure they're aware that they're putting these changes in place a matter of months before the even more swingeing domain name changes from ICANN. I can't wait to hear what they're planning.
This is a guest-post from Guy Clapperton, a freelance journalist who has specialised in the small business arena for over a decade.