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Domain names: What’s in a name?

ZA Central Registry CEO Lucky Masilela.

DOMAIN NAMES: Make a name for yourself

ZA Central Registry CEO Lucky Masilela.

New domain names to hit the Web

Internet domain names

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WHAT IT MEANS: Decision to introduce new name lies with regulator. City domain names are not as popular as expected.

Adebate about an additional domain name (to add to the popular .co.za) has pitted sellers of Internet domain names against the industry regulator.

Changes to local Internet domain names in SA recently led to the introduction of .joburg, .capetown and .food and .music. Now the call for a new name has extended to .za without its usual prefix. This would make it possible to own www.financialmail.za, in addition to (if one preferred) www.financialmail.co.za.

But does it really matter how many domain names SA has? Industry insiders say it does. Another option expands choice, boosts SA’s brand and will also be of particular benefit to small business.

During a heated debate at the iWeek conference last week, .za Domain Name Authority (Zadna) CEO Vika Mpisane said a shift to .za wouldn’t happen without its blessing. Zadna manages and regulates the .za namespace and is accountable to the telecommunications & postal services department.

Mpisane cited a survey that Zadna conducted in 2010, which showed that people were satisfied with the use of .co.za. The respondents were not keen on an additional domain name such as .za. Mpisane says Zadna would run another survey to determine whether an additional domain name was necessary.

The industry has dismissed its earlier study as out-of-date.

ZA Domains' Jade Benson believes there is no need to run another survey, because there is enough support for the introduction of .za.

"The sooner it is implemented the better," he says.

"Variety is the spice of life, and typically consumers who cannot find their desired .co.za domain would look to international registrars to purchase a .com or similar," says Benson. ".za domains would provide them with an alternative opportunity to find their desired domain name and ensure that small business and consumers are supporting local businesses."

Lucky Masilela, the CEO of ZACR, a non-profit organisation, says the price of new domain names needs to be addressed to make it affordable to switch to or add the .za.

"For us it’s not about making money," he says. "We are positioning it for future use and giving people more choice."

Shorter extensions may find more favour. Wayne Diamond from domains.co.za says that from a brand-building perspective, the .za has "fantastic potential".

"We need to stay relevant and need to make future-proof decisions and [introducing .za] follows on what other countries have done," he says.

He says owners of .co.za domains should be given the right to have the same domain ending with .za. This will avoid trademark disputes, among other things. This approach was adopted in other countries, including New Zealand.

"Companies would change their branding over time away from .co.za to just .za. The early movers or adopters who jump on this could establish a .za brand identity very quickly."

A year ago, the ZACR opened the Internet for new generic top-level domain (gTLDs) names ending with city names such as .joburg, .durban, .capetown and also others such as .music and .food.

This was aimed mainly at promoting cities and industries such as music. Just over 10,000 dot-city names have been registered, with Cape Town leading the pack.

ZACR has struggled to achieve a higher number of sales for new domains, mostly because of a "monopoly within the market and exorbitant pricing", says Benson.

Dot-city domain names make up just 0.01% of global market share for all available gTLDs.

The industry says these numbers will decrease drastically with the introduction of .za, unless ZACR reduces the cost of registration and renewal for these gTLDs and substantially lowers or waives a proxy fee which, they say, creates unfair competition.

Masilela says there are fewer registrars who sell the gTLDs compared to the .co.za, which has limited their potential.

Moreover, there are limits on the dot-city names. They can be used for local campaigns and organisations but don’t have broader applications. For example, a municipality can now own a website called mayor.joburg.

The ZACR is finalising strategies to make it easier to sell the names without going through lengthy accreditation processes.