By Richard Schreier, Project Manager, Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA)
Until recently, there was not a lot of choice in what domain name came after the dot in your web address. Traditionally, .CA or .COM were two of about 250 top-level domains (or TLDs in domain industry jargon) available, most of which were very specific to the country code name. This all changed in 2008 when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced an application process to implement new generic TLDs (for more on what a domain and TLD are, check out this factsheet).
Hundreds of organizations jumped on the opportunity to carve out their own piece of the internet (in total, ICANN received 1,930 applications). In addition to many generic TLDs like .cars, .hotels, .guru and .rocks, these applications included over 60 with a distinct geographic focus. This has resulted in many location-centric web addresses, including .nyc, .london, .berlin and .vegas. The only Canadian geography that was represented in this latest round of applications was .quebec (applied for by a private company independent of both Quebec City and the province).
Based on the growing success of these addresses, Canadian cities are starting to consider whether they should apply for their own string to the right of the dot when the next application round opens (which is expected no sooner than 2018). A Councillor in Toronto has already suggested the city consider applying for its own municipal domain, .toronto, and staff are starting to analyze whether or not it’s a good idea. They originally wanted to consider .to, but unfortunately, that string has already been reserved and claimed for the Island Kingdom of Tonga and is therefore no longer available. Municipalities need to be wary of the possibility that another city or community somewhere in the world may share the same name and therefore might scoop the opportunity first. A good example is .london, which was snapped up in the first round by the UK (therefore making it unavailable to the City of London, Ontario).
Cities that are considering applying during the next application round should think of municipal domains as a branding / business opportunity. From information delivery to keyword-friendly URLs, municipal domains can deliver long-standing benefits to citizens and local business. Three key opportunities are discussed below.
Customized, relevant information
Municipal domains unlock new opportunities for cities to engage with citizens and create valuable, relevant addresses. As the owner of a municipal domain, the city is able to reserve or allocate domain names exclusively for municipal purposes. This includes everything from mayor.calgary to civic addresses or neighbourhoods.
The website “www.neighborhoods.nyc” provides a great example of using a municipal domain for civic benefit. On the website, users enter their borough to map key information such as transit, construction and traffic updates. Imagine visiting “youraddress.edmonton” and finding street or neighbourhood-level information on elections, traffic, snow plow schedules and garbage pickup. Many Canadian cities already collect and share this information as part of their Smart City big data initiatives. Toronto’s open data catalogue, for example, contains detailed information on transit schedules, cultural facilities, health inspections, parking tickets and much more. A municipal domain simply allows the City to provide this data to citizens at an easy-to-remember web address that users will see as safe, secure and trusted (they will know that the platform is indeed managed by the City and not some cybersquatter).
Easy to find city services
The previous section mentioned the city’s ability to reserve web addresses for municipal purposes. This can go well beyond neighbourhood-specific information to touch on any city service or bylaw.
As an example, cat and dog owners in Ottawa must register their pets with the City and pay a small fee. Residents can manage this process online through the City of Ottawa’s website. To access the page (assuming the user missed the link under “What’s New” on the homepage), the route to find the registration page looks like this: Ottawa.ca – Residents – Animals and pets – Cat and dog registration – Online payment page.
It would be a lot easier if users were instead directed to “pets.ottawa” to register their pet and access information on pet-related city bylaws. This direct access would be possible through a municipal domain, as the city could reserve short and memorable addresses for key departments and civic organizations. This means no more successions of backslashes and links when trying to access information.
The pet example could be expanded to make any bylaw or city service easily accessible, such as “tourism.ottawa”, “parking.ottawa”, “business.ottawa” or “elections.ottawa”. And these new links can easily co-exist with current websites (with redirects allowing the old to meld with the new). Transitioning to a fully used new right of the dot platform can be done gradually over time, or as budgets allow.
Business opportunity or city building? It is both!
When a new municipal TLD launches, it creates pristine, unused online landscape. This provides major opportunities for local businesses with websites or e-commerce features that more closely match their local identity. It is unlikely that the family owned pizza place down the street will ever have pizza.com or pizza.ca, but with the launch of a new city TLD, there is another chance to have a premium online address where they could register “pizza.reddeer”. Moreover, common words could be held back by the City and sold at a higher price or be used as a focused portal for local entrepreneurs (like “hotels.calgary”).
Visitors benefit because they know the business is local and caters to a specific geographic area, and their presence within the city has been verified. With municipal domains, there will be no question of whether websites for dry cleaning, plumbing or daycare services are for companies in a specific city. Plus, the web addresses are likely to be shorter and easier to remember. Moreover, since the platform is being administered by the City itself, consumers have a higher level of trust knowing the website owner is subject to scrutiny and operates the site within the rules set by the City.
Businesses with a global presence can also use municipal domains to customize branding for each regional offering. For any city, there is branding value in having a municipal domain built into the tens of thousands of operating businesses that promote goods and services locally, nation-wide and globally.
Learn more about launching a gTLD and how CIRA can help.