If you’re still with me then you might be wondering who came up with all of this. The answer is ICANN — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN is a non-profit whose role is to coordinate all the names and numbers that keep the Internet online. They outsource a lot of the heavy domain name lifting to registries like Verisign, who pay ICANN for the privilege.
It is also possible to setup a personalised or branded email address that simply forwards email to an existing inbox you may already have elsewhere such as Gmail, Yahoo or similar. This way, you can continue using your existing email address and receive your emails through your branded domain name. To send from your personalised address you will need an email mailbox account.
Getting a domain name involves registering the name you want with an organisation called ICANN through a domain name registrar. For example, if you choose a name like "example.com", you will have to go to a registrar, pay a registration fee that costs around US$10 to US$35 for that name. That will give you the right to the name for a year, and you will have to renew it annually for (usually) the same amount per annum.
There is also what is called a ccTLD, or country code top-level domain. These are designed to signify sites located in or associated with certain countries or territories. Most of the ccTLDs actually don't have restrictions regarding who can register domain names. In fact, many ccTLDs are commonly misinterpreted as TLDs. For example, while .tv is commonly registered by television and media related websites, .tv is actually the ccTLD designated for the country Tuvalu. Domain hacks are also a popular use of both TLDs and ccTLDs. This involves creating a full word or phrase when combining the domain name with the TLD to create something your audience will easily remember. A popular example is using the .me ccTLD for Montenegro and combining it with "aweso" to create the domain aweso.me.
Note that you can also transfer your domain name from one registration service to another. You'll want to do this if you're not satisfied with your current domain hosting service, if you find a better deal when your current registration is coming due, or, most likely, if you've signed up with a web hosting service that will also transfer your name to its site. Expect to get the transfer for free, but if that isn't offered, search for another domain hosting service.
The market-driven principles of the domain trade mean that a domain is only worth as much as the buyer is willing to pay. It is for this reason that criteria such as market potential and usability play such central roles in determining prices. Values can change at the drop of a hat. The price of a domain that was once of little interest to anyone in years past can skyrocket once, for example, a newly founded company takes interest in that same name.
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