RealNames Clones Confuse

Earlier this year, I wrote about the closure of the RealNames system, which allowed Internet Explorer (IE) users to navigate directly to Web sites by using ordinary words in place of URLs.

Since then, I’ve received a steady stream of email from people who hear messages from other companies suggesting they’ve taken over the role RealNames had with Microsoft. Here are two such emails:

I received a call today from [X company] that claims to have a 10-year advertising deal with When a person types a phrase into their Web browser, they will be taken directly to those advertising with this company. I wanted to find out if you’ve heard of this before, and, if so, what you’ve heard about it. We have been approached by [X company] to purchase keywords that would go to our site when typed in the address bar. What do you know about this? Is it legitimate, or will Microsoft stomp it out?

Several companies provide keyword navigation systems or “namespace” services, just like RealNames did. Netword is a long-time player in the space, many years old. CommonName is one I’ve only recently heard of, but the company claims to have been operating since 2000. is a brand-new company, launched in May of this year.

Unlike RealNames, none of these companies offers native integration of their namespace services into IE. In other words, when RealNames was operational, anyone using IE had access to it. It was built into the browser. In contrast, the only people who can use the namespaces offered by these other companies via IE are those relatively few who have installed special software or plug-ins.

Microsoft ended its partnership with RealNames in May, and the RealNames system formally closed down a month later. Since then, Microsoft has not named another company to take the place of RealNames nor indicated any immediate plans to resurrect a wide-range namespace system of its own or through a third party.

There is a new MSN Keywords system that will roll out with the MSN 8 Explorer browser, expected to be made available later this month. Similar to AOL Keywords, these are a single words or short phrases that work only for those within the new paid MSN service. They will deliver people to particular pages that Microsoft has selected, such as “news” leading to MSNBC. The terms are not sold, are limited in number, and do not work in IE, Microsoft says.

In short, any sales pitch suggesting a namespace system is “built into” or “native” to IE is incorrect. A sales pitch that a systems work with IE is not wrong, but understand this is only true for the relatively few users who have installed the necessary software.

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