Registering a domain name lets you create a personal presence on the web. With your own web address, you can control your online identity by linking to any other site with more information about you. For example, you can register a domain name and forward it to a website, blog, or social profile page like your Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter pages. A domain name can protect your personal brand and help your career.
Hostwinds remains a user-friendly option for registration and hosting, even if you're transferring from another service. It lists out all the extensions to create your domain name with prices to register, transfer, or renew for each extension, unlike some services that bury these within the website. You simply enter the domain name you want and check the availability, and can theoretically get going in a few clicks (if it's available or taken). It will then tell you if it is available or taken. They've also got live chat, email, and phone technical support before purchase too, which is rather rare.
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.
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're having trouble finding a domain name (whether because of crowding or cyber-squatters), check for a help facility on each registrar's site. Domain registrars typically house search engines that return a listing of available names similar to the one you want. When you search for a domain name at Namecheap, for example, you get both the status of that name and a list of suffixes available for that name. Maybe [Sitename].com isn't available, but [Sitename].biz or .org is.