Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pay Attention to the Extensions!

Recently I needed some information from the FDA and crafted a very sophisticated search for “FDA.” On the first page of results, there was a number of “official” looking websites, such as I immediately realized that this was not the official government site that I was expecting. Instead, the site contained articles and information related to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This website is owned by Gelinas Associates, an Orlando, Florida based company, and has no affiliation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, this is not readily apparent unless you scroll down to the Disclaimer.

Similarly, I noticed is a division of GMP Publications, Inc., a private firm and again, not affiliated with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. In addition to informational links, this site offers numerous government publications for purchase, such as the Code of Federal Regulations, which I remembered is free on several websites.

I wonder how many people take the time to look closely at the extension of a website result before clicking it. Differences among sites may be subtle and easily missed by busy researchers.


One noticeable difference is the advertisements on the .com and .org sites. If someone mistakenly believed he or she was on the official site, it may look like the government endorses or recommends these products.
A few other differences I noticed include the currency of the information provided and lack of any author information. For instance, the .gov site was updated as recently as one day ago, while the .org site has a copyright date of 2010 and the .com site’s copyright date is 2009. Also, without author information the authority and accuracy cannot be verified and may be questionable.  

So what do these different website extensions mean and how do they get assigned? 

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) maintains a list of all official domain extensions and is in charge of assigning them. 

Here are the most common original extensions created early in the development of the Internet.

.com -- stands for "commercial" and is the most widely used extension. This is categorized as an open extension, meaning any person or entity is allowed to register. Originally intended for use by for-profit business entities, it has become the "main" extension for many entities including nonprofits, schools and private individuals.
.org -- stands for "organization," and is primarily used by nonprofits or trade associations. This is an open extension, similar to .com.
.net -- stands for "network," and is most commonly used by businesses that are directly involved in the infrastructure of the Internet. This is another open extension.
.edu – stands for “education” and is used by educational institutions. This is not an open extension and is almost exclusively used by American colleges and universities.
.gov – stands for “government” and is used by governmental entities and agencies in the U.S. Like .edu, this is not an open extension. 

As the Internet evolves, so do the extensions. Some newer extension that you may not be familiar with include:  
Piqued your interested? Check out these and other extensions on this .net site.

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