Most people assume a domain name ends in .com so if you buy a domain name with one of the other extensions (.net, .info, .org, etc.), you’ll have some extra work to get people to remember that your site has a different extension. Don’t automatically assume you should only buy domains with .com, though. Many sites have done quite well with other extensions. (Look at us!)
Those trading domains for commercial purposes are generally on the prowl for lucrative domain endings. There are essentially two different ways traders go about making money off of domain names. One method entails purchasing already established names for a low price and selling them for a profit later once their value has increased. Another strategy involves buying and registering a domain that is thought to possess a high sales potential. Many domain traders use backorder services. These services automatically register a domain when one becomes available or is deleted (what are known as expired domains).
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 numerous domain name registrars. Listed below are just a few, along with my comments, if I know anything about them. Note that the domain name industry is highly competitive, with prices wildly fluctuating throughout the year, every year, so it's impossible to really mention accurate prices below unless I spend all my time updating this page. Please check their sites for the latest rates. All prices below are in US dollars.
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).
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Critics often claim abuse of administrative power over domain names. Particularly noteworthy was the VeriSign Site Finder system which redirected all unregistered .com and .net domains to a VeriSign webpage. For example, at a public meeting with VeriSign to air technical concerns about SiteFinder, numerous people, active in the IETF and other technical bodies, explained how they were surprised by VeriSign's changing the fundamental behavior of a major component of Internet infrastructure, not having obtained the customary consensus. SiteFinder, at first, assumed every Internet query was for a website, and it monetized queries for incorrect domain names, taking the user to VeriSign's search site. Unfortunately, other applications, such as many implementations of email, treat a lack of response to a domain name query as an indication that the domain does not exist, and that the message can be treated as undeliverable. The original VeriSign implementation broke this assumption for mail, because it would always resolve an erroneous domain name to that of SiteFinder. While VeriSign later changed SiteFinder's behaviour with regard to email, there was still widespread protest about VeriSign's action being more in its financial interest than in the interest of the Internet infrastructure component for which VeriSign was the steward.
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.