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According to cynical old-timers in this business, once you've shaken hands with Microsoft - you should count your fingers.

Or the rest of your arm.

RealNames Corp., the VC-funded wheeze that promised to short-circuit the DNS system by doing an exclusive deal with Microsoft, has announced that it will cease trading as of today.

RealNames' proposition was simple, and on the face of it, a no-brainer. Type a real word or phrase into your browser and it would guide you to your destination, bypassing all this cumbersome domain name business. A nice idea, but one based on the assumption that people are fairly stupid, and couldn't figure out that Comp USA's website might be say, CompUSA.com, and that even if you mistook whitehouse.gov for whitehouse.org, you'd be unhappy about the serendipitous diversion.

Microsoft chose to sign an "exclusive" deal with RealNames to use its proxy in Internet Explorer, which provided an irresistible magnet for further investment.

So it's not surprising that this reductive analysis view of humanity caught the attention of Venture Capitalists - who, by nature, are dumber than rocks, and like to think the rest of us are even stupider than they are - and all told, $100 million of capital poured into Real Names.

But RealNames was itself short-circuited by a couple of things. Firstly, the common intelligence of Internet users who in the dot.com era, proved themselves astonishingly capable of adding er, ".com" onto a well known brand, and then - like magic! - arriving at their destination. And also by Microsoft, which added an autocomplete feature to the URL bar giving the rest of the ability to remember stuff we'd typed in before.

Microsoft cancelled its contract with RealNames earlier this year, and as a consequence - the company has no "Plan B" - it's now toast. If you can think of better ways to spend $100 million - and that's a figure we'll all have to underwrite, one way or another - please don't let us know. ®

RealNames founder Keith Teare is not pleased with Microsoft

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