The way that competition is supposed to work between registries, is that lots of companies go to ICANN and say “We think we can reliably manage .com, and we think it would cost us [$5] per domain.” ICANN reviews these bids and awards the .com contract, which lasts for a fixed period of time, to whomever they deem best-suited to the job. In this time, other companies can think of ways to manage .com better/cheaper, and try and win the next contract. This, in theory, would provide an incentive for registries to innovate, a big part of which would be in lowering costs.
There are tons of great domain names available for registration and it can take as little as five minutes to register one at any domain name retailer. These online stores make it very easy for you to search for available domain names with name suggestion tools. They also offer complementary services, such as Web hosting and website design so you can register your desired domain name and set up a website all at once.
You should also avoid words that have more than one spelling if your visitors are likely to be confused and mistype the name. Alternately, you can buy both versions of the name and direct visitors from the one you like less to the preferred name. While you do want a short name (see below), don’t go for something so cryptic that people have a hard time remembering it. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool and you want to make it easy for people to tell their friends about your site.
Hostt is a just-launched free web hosting company that includes domain name purchasing and registration. They've a suite of offerings, such as one where you'll pay $13.99 per year for domain names with extensions that include .com, .net, .org, .us, .biz, and .info., but have unlimited bandwidth, web space, sub-domains, parked domains, sub-domains and email accounts, among other things. Like HostGator, they include domain locking and automatic renewal, along with a user-friendly management portal (which, believe me, is pretty rare) and 24/7 technical support. This isn't a bad price considering the amount you get, and their $3.95 and $5.95 a month packages both offer fairly balanced domain-inclusive packages.
If you do not have a web host, you can always allow the registrar to park your domain name at a temporary website specially set up for you. This way you can quickly secure your domain name before it's too late and still take your time to set up the other aspects of your site. As far as I can tell, most registrars (or probably all) automatically park your domain by default whether you ask them to or not, so if this is your situation, you probably don't have to do anything special to get it done. Some of those registrars also provide you with a free email address at your own domain name while it is parked at their site, like email@example.com (where "example.com" is your domain).
1and1 have terrible customer service and billing, quite possibly the worst ever encountered. Their billing/invoice system is all over the place, their staff untrained and unwilling to resolve and their pricing is literally plucked out of thin air. Beware, pay 12 months in advance (not monthly) then cancel the direct debit or Paypal auto payment, otherwise they will rinse your pockets when you’re not looking &/or unexpectedly take an extra payment because of an ‘oversight’.
A domain name registration is simply reserving your website's name for a specified period of time. The two parties involved with a domain registration are generally the user who is registering the domain and the domain registrar. The domain registrant is the user who actually registers the domain name and the domain registrar is the company who helps that user with their domain registration.
In order to register any domain, you must provide certain personal information that you may not wish to be publically searchable in the Whois database. Signing up for WhoisGuard is a great way to keep your registration data private. WhoisGuard acts as a "shield" for your searchable information, displaying the address, phone number, and email of the domain registrar (Namecheap, e.g.) instead of your own. Keep in mind that WhoisGuard is an optional security add-on that must be renewed separately when you renew your domain.