The bid for a Welsh Top Level Domain has reached a crucial stage. After years of deliberations and conferences the world’s internet naming organisation, ICANN, has announced that 12 January 2012 will be the opening date for applications for new TLDs.
There could be hundreds of new TLDs from the controversial (.xxx for pornography) to a new category of city (.berlin, .london). One of the oldest bids is that from Wales which has been lead by dotCYM Ltd.
However, just as ICANN got its house in order in Wales we’re effectively starting the whole process once again with months to go.
dotCYM Ltd was formed five years ago as a not-for-profit company to apply for a Welsh top-level domain and its Board and members are all from Wales.
It has almost single-handedly lobbied both with the Welsh and UK governments, ICANN and within in the European Union, for Wales to be allowed to have its own top-level domain – like the Isle of Man, Guernsey or Gibraltar. It’s supported by thousands of individuals, Welsh societies and business in Wales and the Welsh Diaspora. It’s fair to say, had it not been for the work of the dotCYM Board there would be no bid for a Welsh domain going to ICANN at all.
Although inspired by the .cat doman for the Catalans, unlike .cat, the Welsh domain will not have the same tight restrictions on linguistic use. The domain will be available for websites in English or Welsh – it will be a very broad definition of the Welsh community of interest.
The bid for a Welsh domain was initially based on using the popular three letters CYM which are seen on car registration plates and stickers across Wales. However, a change of rules by the global internet naming body, ICANN, made this choice unavailable.
In 2009 dotCYM were therefore charged by the Welsh Government to choose a new domain for the Welsh community. dotCYM held an open poll and consulted with over six thousand people who supported the initial bid (what you’d call early-adopters in this case). The poll gained wide coverage in the Western Mail, BBC online news in Welsh and English, The Independent and Telegraph and some 30 industry publications and various websites and twitter. The popular choice by the Welsh-speakers and non-Welsh speakers who responded was for .cymru.
This wasn’t a scientific poll – the Government unfortunately released no money for that. However, the dotCYM Board also took the view that as well as being a popular choice it would also be the case that a very large percentage (in my personal view, a majority) of those likely to buy a Welsh domain would wish to buy .cymru rather than another version of Welsh identity.
Many businesses in Wales, large ones like Admiral and others, may wish to highlight their UK-wide profile. They may feel a Welsh domain, of any sort, would not be for them in the same way that a charity would not go for .biz. Their choice would be to stick with the very popular .co.uk or more generic .com. It’s not a competition. Or, they could use both for different part of their services.
Other businesses – family and small independent firms and services who’s customers are within the local commute – may wish to highlight what they may see as a more bespoke, local brand. They could be tourist establishments, the local butcher or café, an independent pub or electrician. For them. .cymru, would be ideal. The domain also builds on an increasingly dependable and commendable array of goods and services. From my regular forays to Aberystwyth’s 24 Hour Spar (Aber’s pretence at being a metropolis) those food products which have Welsh labelling are invariably of very high quality. It’s almost become a rule of thumb for me, if there’s a Welsh name, the product is good.
Although the responsibility for the bid comes under the economy Minister, Edwina Hart, the domain is of course for the whole of Wales – not just the business community. In fact the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, may have alluded to this, when, in an answer to a recent question by Suzy Davies AM in the Siambr on the subject, he said that there was ‘no short term economic benefit’ to a Welsh domain. We believe there is great economic (and cultural) benefit for a Welsh domain.
There is also linguistic benefit, for what will be the only Welsh language ‘string’ on the internet. With the newly appointed Welsh Language Commissioner, Meri Huws, responsible for developing the use of Welsh on the internet, not to use .cymru would give an unclear message about developing Wales’s to be a bilingual country.
Whilst the Scots have a definable clichés of haggis, kilts and whiskies, Wales’s one unique selling point is it’s language – even if it does mean repeating that Anglesey village with a very long name to tourists and foreign friends alike!
The .cymru domain counter-intuitively also works well for domains which use recognised English acronyms or idioms where giving a Welsh translation may seem cumbersome or even forced. In that respect, it’s ideal for keeping both sides of the language debate happy.
One can imagine; nhs.cymru, gov.cymru, faw.cymru or say, giveblood.cymru or visitwales.cymru. In fact, the .cymru domain is a reflection of the existing reality of many organisations operating in Wales which already use the Cymru suffix. Think of Oxfam Cymru, Shelter Cymru, NFU Cymru to name a few.
In a way .cymru allows for a more natural, macaronic use of domain names which reflects the reality of much of Welsh life.
Unlike our Scottish counterparts Wales has at times been lethargic in grabbing the opportunity which our own TLD would give. As I said, were it not for the work of dotCYM Ltd who saw the opportunity before any policy wonk, politician or IT specialist did, there could be no bid from Wales at all – which could have left Wales the only nation in Europe without its own domain.
Wales is now in the happy position that it will submit a bid to ICANN. However, as the Government makes the decision and supports a bid it needs to take that decision on the basis of what is best for Wales in the long term and not what is the cheapest and easiest option now.
The .cymru domain is all about confidence. Confidence that we can build on our IT infrastructure and services in Wales – and brand it. Confidence, recognition and celebration of what Wales is – a small, tenacious nation which is open to the world. Wales is small but diverse. Its issues are awkward or irritating to some – a bit like our flag really.
I mean, we could have chosen one of those ‘easy-to-draw’ tricolours, you know like the one everyone else has? But no, we chose a difficult to draw Dragon. Why? Because it had two thousand years of history behind it – it’s about who we are. And let’s face it, isn’t it one of the most distinctive flags in the world for that? Being ‘like every one else’ it not always the best line in marketing.
It being rugby world cup season .cymru reminded me in a funny way of the New Zealand haka. Rugby officiados will have been struck by watching footage of the New Zealand rugby team doing the war dance in 1970s and today’s version. The 1970s Kiwis seemed slightly embarrassed and limp-shouldered as they mumbled the haka chant.
Today’s Kiwis have none of the embarrassment or cultural cringe. They’ve been ambitious for themselves and confident in their identity. They’ve learnt the words, they’ve mastered movements and for them now, the haka isn’t a folkloric throwback but an essential ingredient in New Zealand’s USP. It’s the kind of genuine narrative and nation branding no company could make up or buy.
And that’s what the ambitious .cymru domain is all about – learning new ways of thinking, mastering and adapting new technology and building on what is a strong USP.