Humans have always been drawn towards forming communities and societies, but maintaining a collective identity in the anonymous world of technology can be a struggle. Social media sites provide a personalised page for us to ‘belong’ (other issues aside), but larger collectives are moving towards geo TLDs as a place to represent the community and forge unity online.
Geographical top level domains (geo TLDs) became available from ICANN in 2012 when the first round of applications for new generic TLDs (gTLDs) was opened. According to strict ICANN definition, geo TLDs must be a country or territory name (excluding the country code TLDs), a sub-national geographic name, a city name, a continent, or UN region. All of these are detailed in careful lists, and include the likes of .asia, .africa, .persiangulf, .london and .bayern.
Amid the 1,930 applications received in 2012 for new gTLDs, there were 66 applications for geo TLDs. A total of 58 were granted as geo TLDs, the majority being cities (34) like .nyc or .amsterdam. The eight geo rejections, including .scot, were due to the failure to meet ICANN criteria to be classed as a geo: for example, the geo TLD for Scotland should be .scotland, so .scot was instead registered as a generic TLD.
There are also issues over intention for use – geo TLDs must be intended to represent the area they belong to gain approval. Google tried to register .est and .and among others, intending them for use as domain hacks. ICANN resisted, as these domain names refer to ISO codes for the countries: Estonia and Andorra respectively.
The application and review process is stringent. Many of the geo TLDs require government non-objection (where applicable) to the registering of the domain name. If two applicants seek the same name, they must decide between themselves which party will take the application forwards or proceed to auction.
Applicants also need to prove their technical, operational and financial capabilities to manage and run the new TLD if successful. The review includes assessing the security and stability of the proposed registry services to manage the domain – this could be an in-house team or a third party provider, such as Nominet.
At Nominet, we currently operate as a registry service provider for a number of the top geo TLDs, including .wales, .london and .boston, ensuring these domains operate smoothly. We also help the applicant protect the name at the second and third levels in line with ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee advice, ensuring the geo TLDs are never misused or misappropriated.
The geo TLDs, when used correctly, offer great means of connecting communities and those living within areas in a way that can otherwise be a challenge on the anonymous expanse of the web. In regards .london, many of the city’s businesses have signed second level domains, from consultancy firms (www.earth.london) to local regeneration projects (www.tottenham.london). Sites such as www.smart.london provide sharing platforms for businesses and individuals, and the geo TLD has proved to be one of the most popular in the world: there were over 73,000 domain registrations as of early December 2017.
These domains also help connect a site, business or activity with a location – see www.festival.melbourne as the home for the city’s big festival – and feed into region’s or country’s need for self-identification, such as www.gov.wales. Some claim geo TLDs are more intuitive for users, which could explain their popularity for localised industries or businesses, such as www.theatre.london.
As the applicable possibilities of geo TLDs becomes clearer and successes are reaped, it seems likely that the second round of new gTLD application and delegation – likely in 2019 or 2020 – will be exciting, as more people become wise to what they can achieve with a geo TLD.
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