Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia markets its .co domain as internet opens up

Image from .CO Internet SAS website
Image caption Colombia aims to use money from its .co trade to improve digital access

Colombia's newest major export does not require intensive labour.

In fact, it essentially just requires a bit of typing.

The two letters that identify Colombian domains on the web - .co - have become a hot asset since they were made available internationally a year ago.

"It's a very short domain and so comes very handy because of social media such as Twitter, which has a limit of 140 characters," says Juan Diego Calle, chief executive of .Co Internet SAS, the company that manages the domain on behalf of the Colombian government.

"It's easy to recognise, to understand, to memorise."

His view is shared by others working in the field.

"In English-speaking countries, 'co' is synonymous with 'commerce' or 'company' and is an attractive option for companies," says Bruce Tonkin, from Melbourne IT, a domain registry service in Australia.

It is particularly appealing in the UK as a shortened version of the widely-used .co.uk domain, he adds.

Shorter is better

The domain name's similarity to the .com address is also an asset.

Other domains, like .cm (Cameroon) and .om (Oman) are attractive because they are able to convert what's known as "typo traffic", basically bad typing, into advertising revenue.

But Mr Tonkin believes that .co is a genuine alternative to .com.

Image caption More varied domain names and languages are appearing on the web

Colombia is also cashing in on .com's saturation.

"Getting a .com domain is almost impossible nowadays. Odds are someone else has already registered it, because there are close to 100m registered .com domains," Mr Calle says.

In contrast, the number of .co domains before 20 July 2010 - when .CO Internet SAS first made them available in the global market - was 28,000.

By the next day that figure had increased to 233,000.

And the one million mark was reached well within a year.

The popularity of .co was also expected to soar after Google announced in July that it had bought a Colombian internet address to create its official URL shortener - g.co.

"In the world of URLs, bigger is not always better," Gary Briggs, Google's vice-president of consumer marketing, explained in the company's official blog, where he announced the acquisition.

Mr Calle says the price of the exclusive one-letter domains - which already include Twitter's t.co and Amazon's a.co - is in excess of $1.5m (£918,000).

Using short domains forms part of marketing strategies, but companies are unlikely to use them as their main website address, preferring the longer-standing generic top level domains (gTLDs) such as .com.

Likening domains to advertising signs, Mr Tonkin said: "Companies may prop up advertising billboards anywhere, but their shops will always be in a stable environment."

Worth the wait

Most .co domains cost between $15 and $25, and can be registered online in under five minutes.

The resulting royalties are paid by .CO Internet SAS to the Colombian government for a special fund that aims to boost computer and internet usage in the country.

The need to regulate the commercial exploitation of the lucrative .co domain meant that webmasters the world over were forced to wait before they could get their hands on one.

This proved to be a stroke of luck for Colombia, since it is the (relatively recent) emergence of Twitter that has driven up the prices of short domain names.

Other countries, however, are also promoting their own domains as viable alternatives, such as Tuvalu (.tv), Montenegro (.me) and even India (.in).

The recent decision by the global internet regulator, Icann (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), to dramatically increase the number of domain endings will only add to the competition.

But Mr Calle is convinced Colombia's .co will not lose its appeal.

"The advantage of being a short-cut for 'company' certainly makes ours the most attractive one," he explains.

Additional reporting by Alizeh Kohari, London

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