As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of .coop, many people wonder about the history of the .coop domain name, how it operates today and the important role that UK co-operators have had in both the past and present day running of the domain.
I suspect that most readers won’t want to be burdened with too much technological speak, but please let me apologise in advance for the appearance of a few acronyms, which are hard to avoid in the internet world!
The internet today is pervasive — a source of knowledge, entertainment and conjecture. For many organisations their web sites and email services are as important in earning their daily bread as their offices and machinery.
When we switch on our smart phones, tablets or laptops we assume that the internet will ‘work’, and indeed if it didn’t then the implications would be significant.
A less well known fact is that the co-operative movement has a small slice of the internet all to itself. The .coop domain is 10 years old and UK co-operatives and co-operators still play a major part in the successful running of the domain.
While a lot of co-operators might know a little about how web sites are created and most of us use the internet on a regular basis, the way that a domain name operates is something of a mystery to many.
The body that has responsibility for the ‘management of the internet’, if that expression isn’t an oxymoron, is known as ICANN. The ‘Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ is a not for profit organisation that controls internet nomenclature. It was ICANN that decided to open up domain names from the original country codes (.uk) and commercial domains (.com, .net, .org etc). Forty-four aspirant claims were considered and two years later only seven received final approval, including .coop.
The key players putting the bid together on behalf of the global movement at that time were the UK based worker co-operative Poptel , and the US co-operative apex organisation, National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA). A global board to represent the movement was created as part of the governance process, while a stand- alone company was established to operate the domain name. DotCooperation Limited Liability Corporation (known as DCLLC) came into being and has run the domain since its creation.
The DCLLC board oversees the running of the .coop domain on behalf of NCBA, with a global board meeting four times a year (these meetings are by necessity ‘virtual’ – using Skype and other internet-based applications to bring together a board from across the world).
So what’s involved in running a domain name? While there is inevitably a lot of technology to work with, the key business processes are those of selling domains and then maintaining a record of who owns what. There are two types of business that manage these processes, that of the registry operator (the record keeper) and then the registrars (the sales agents).
Every top level domain name (like .coop, .com, .org) needs something called a ‘registry’ — in a sense the telephone directory for a domain name. The dotCoop registry service has been provided to DCLLC by the Midcounties Co-operative since 2004, providing another UK link into the .coop world. The registry service is highly specialised, especially taking into account that every application to purchase a .coop domain has to come from a bona fide co-operative. This means that verification of a purchaser’s entitlement to buy and use a .coop name is a key part of the purchase process, very unusual in the internet world and a real advantage for the owners of a .coop name
The Registry operation holds all the data about who owns a domain name, and which computer in the world holds the web site or other service related to that domain name. Domain Name Services (known as DNS) are then the processes that every registry operator uses to inform the world of where every web site is located. Without DNS the notion of a ‘world wide’ web where any user can locate any web page is lost.
The registry team for .coop consists of three people dedicated to the administration and management of the domain, and they are based in Oxford. The technical services for the registry are provided from within Midcounties’ IT group where there are some wonderfully gifted people who get real pleasure from working on such a unique technical challenge (they are indeed super geeks, but none the worse for that).
The businesses who sell domain names are known as registrars. There are a lot of registrars in the world (all in turn licensed by ICANN) but only a few are able to sell .coop names given that the verification process must be followed properly. Of these registrars another UK based business is dedicated primarily to the .coop domain (www.domains.coop) with this registrar being part of a co-operative itself. Domains.coop handles around 80 per cent of all .coop sales.
Domains.coop has a number of resellers based around the world to give the registrar a global reach and this allows co-operatives to conduct business in their own region with someone who understands both their co-operative culture and their language. Many resellers offer advice and ancillary services as well as the .coop domain name purchasing service.
Looking ahead there are some crucial challenges facing the world wide web. The politics surrounding the web, while seldom making the front page of newspapers, are as passionately debated and in some ways as important as in any other sphere. Governments battle to ‘control’ what their citizens can access using web technologies whilst others fight for the principals of open access to all. Debates are fierce on whether and how censorship should be applied to the less salubrious aspects of web content and there are regular challenges questioning how ICANN should be structured and managed.
ICANN has recently agreed to open up many more domain names (for a significant entry fee) to cities, groups and others with specific credentials to be ‘communities’ and thus the web is going to become more complex in terms of meaningful domain name identities.
Having been at the vanguard of the domain name movement for 10 years and having worked hard to preserve the integrity of the .coop domain name for all that time, the co-operative movement now has a significant opportunity to increasingly embrace .coop. While 7,000 or so names have been purchased to date there remains huge potential for co-operatives to own a domain name that is directly relevant to their marketing or business purpose.
The use of .coop domains should be part of every co-operative marketers thinking. The domain offers a wide choice of available names and by using .coop at the end of a web presence any co-operative can emphasise that they are a member of the global co-operative community with all the trust and positive connotations that this brings with it. If an organisation hasn’t owned a .coop domain before then there is a ‘try free for a year’ offer and co-operatives often end up buying more than one domain, using them to support specific marketing campaigns or to give individual identity to different business units or product streams.
UK co-operatives have been amongst the most imaginative in using .coop domains to really promote their co-operative identity on the web with www.thenews.coop being a great example. In this ‘year of co-operatives’ I hope that more co-operatives will embrace the name and become .coop organisations and on behalf of DCLLC can I thank those of you who are already using and promoting .coop as a key part of your organisations’ co-operative identity.