Does England need its own internet domain?

The confirmation of a .London domain was announced with much fanfare The confirmation of a .london domain was announced with much fanfare

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Debates concerning national identity and patriotism have a habit of turning lively. But does anyone care whether England gets its own internet domain name?

The race between London and Scotland could be heading for a photo finish.

England though, will not even be in the picture.

Businesses across Scotland may have new websites with the .scot suffix in time for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, this summer.

Firms and tourist attractions in England's capital could too be nailing their online colours to the mast with a .london address, within months.

Elsewhere in the land of St George, however, there will be no stampede for change, because a dot England top-level domain (TLD) is not yet on the horizon.

Top-level domains

  • A top-level domain (TLD) is the last part of any web address
  • There are two different kinds of TLD - country-codes (ccTLD) and generic (gTLD).
  • ccTLDs are always two letters long and are given to areas listed by the International Organization for Standardization - for instance .fr for France and .de for Germany.
  • gTLDs are at least three characters long and can be used to represent organisations, communities and concepts - ie .org for organisations and .coop for co-operatives.

To date, no application has been lodged with Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the international body responsible for assigning the domains.

'Cool country'

But does it matter that English businesses cannot include their country in their web addresses? And would it make a difference if patriotic internet users could send emails from a .England account?

John Sewell is firmly in the "Yes" camp, having set up the DotEng campaign five years ago.

Drawing on his industry experience, Mr Sewell believed he had the "knowhow and ability" to lead the effort, but accepts momentum has stalled.

"I do get lots of people wanting to get involved but it's more so wanting to get involved afterwards so they can run it," he said.

"I still think it should happen, it's happening all around the world.

"My view is that it's not a bad thing to be patriotic. England is a cool country, we're highly in demand for fashion and many other things.

"I know we're a United Kingdom but we're also passionate about being English without being disrespectful to anyone else. There's a lot of entrepreneurial flair in this country."

Mr Sewell's online petition is still running, but he believes it would take the involvement of big business before a serious application for an England TLD will be made.

'Way behind'

"It's a lot of money for an individual to put a speculative application in.

"I'd hate to think it was dead and buried and I'd like to think it can still happen."

Raising profile

Allan Akers

Businesses around England are now able to apply for web addresses linked to specific domains for their industry.

Tippers, a chain of builders merchants based in the Midlands, now has a website with the .plumbing suffix.

E-commerce manager Allan Akers said the firm's previous addresses had been "rather cumbersome and hard to remember".

The new address, he hopes, will raise the company's profile and boost trade.

Richard Stevenson, from domain name registrar 1&1 Internet, which is one of a number of firms selling .london addresses, believes it could take a number of years before efforts for an England TLD to reach fruition.

"As no formal application was submitted to ICANN for .England, it is indeed way behind in the process," he said.

"There would be new benefits in being able to localise a website to England specifically, as opposed to the UK, which for example, could be valuable for English tourism, farming, legal sectors and also personal websites.

"However, with about 10 million registrations to date, I do think that the existing .co.uk is doing a great job as a beacon for identifying UK based businesses, certainly for overseas audiences."

Mr Stevenson said one of the most powerful benefits of a TLD was being able to "demonstrate relevance" to a subject, industry or location simply from a web address.

"For many users, geographical identity is a powerful boon on the internet."

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has said .scot would be a "marvellously expressive domain" and Mr Sewell believes a "Yes" vote in the independence referendum could be a fresh "catalyst" for his campaign.

'Market for domains'

Applicants in the last round of TLD allocations paid ICANN about £110,000, but estimates for total associated costs reach almost £300,000.

Martin Greig, from London & Partners, the organisation that helped secure the capital's domain, said a survey had suggested one in four companies would opt for a new address.

"The registrars tell us that of all of the generic new top-level domains they have available for pre-registration that .london is by far one of the most popular.

"There is a market for these new domains, obviously .scot is coming soon, I believe .wales is going to be one and there clearly is going to be a new .uk as well.

"Dot England? I don't see any reason why there shouldn't be one but it's clearly going to be down to someone to make the application."

For now the wait goes on, although if campaigners like John Sewell ever get their way, there will eventually be a corner of the internet that is forever England.

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