Domain names help poor nations out of poverty

They aren’t just country-code indicators for websites: domain name suffixes can be traded to help boost the economies of poorer, smaller, countries, a hosting provider has learned.

What’s in a domain name? This is a question we’ve asked at Cybernews before — and according to Fasthosts, there’s quite a lot if you’re in the right place at the right time.

The web address hosting company spent a year analyzing different domain names and found that small countries like the Asia-Pacific nation of Tuvalu have been doing a thriving trade selling sought-after suffixes for web addresses.

In fact, Tuvalu made around $10 million last year from sales of .tv — not bad for a nation of scarcely more than 10,000 citizens with an average annual GDP of around $63 million.

And while, as you might expect, Australia and New Zealand topped the list of popular domain suffixes for the Oceania region. The latter country’s overseas territory Tokelau was a close third, with just over five million registrations.

“Over the years, there have been reports that the revenue generated from their domain sales have seen a huge rise in their GDP, which in 2012 had the lowest in the entire world,” said Fasthosts.

So coveted are domain-name country codes that one is even being contested in an international legal case — with South Pacific island state Niue bringing proceedings against the Internet Foundation of Sweden for what it claims is wrongful ownership of the .nu suffix.

“Country code top-level domains have been growing exponentially since their creation in the 1970s,” said Fasthosts. “The right domain can be a source of profit, but also a key indicator of the shaping of international relations and geopolitics.”

In Africa, this is evidenced by the success stories of Gabon (.ga), Mali (.ml), and Central African Republic (.cf). The first of these nations is taking the lead in Africa, at around seven million registrations, with the other two in second and third place respectively.

“Each of the three’s success can be attributed to their accessibility and affordability, making them a strong choice for businesses and individuals across the continent,” said Fasthosts. “With that said, their country codes have some of the highest number of distributed malware, which can lead to questions around ethics and regulations.”

And spare a thought for Colombia in Latin America, which appears to have benefited from a quirky coincidence — because its national suffix .co appears synonymous with English words like “company” or “commerce,” it too has enjoyed a brisk trade in its highly desirable three characters.

“The top two country codes in the Americas were .br and .co,” said Fasthosts. “In recent years, Brazil has established its country code's popularity due to the nation's large population, economy, and increasing access to the internet. Colombia’s .co on the other hand has gained global recognition as an abbreviation for .com, company, commerce, and community.”

Of course, it should be stressed that millions of entities paying to register a website with a particular suffix does not necessarily mean you can expect to see a like number of portals ending in .co, .tv, or .ga straight away.

Of the 1.98 billion domain names observed by Fasthosts registered on the world wide web at the end of last year, only 17% are active. What this means is that the registered website in question has at least two servers connecting to it, so it looks as though many domain names have simply been registered for reselling or developing at a later date.

Still, that amounts to some 350 million websites in active use around the globe today. Many of these are still dominated by big players like .com (the US, but also enjoying global dominance through its uptake worldwide), .ru (Russia), .in (India), and .cn (China).

But perhaps it is in Russia’s case that the overtly geopolitical, rather than the economic, aspect of domain names is most apparent.

“The future of the .ru domain was up for debate when domain sales were exempt from US sanctions on Russia in order to support activists’ and independent media’s fight against potential government propaganda,” said Fasthosts. “Further emphasizing the power of governments and organizations to exert control over domain names to enforce content regulations and censorship.”

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