Q&A: Carolyn Hoover, Chief Executive of dotCoop

As the co-operative domain name, dotCoop, reaches its tenth anniversary, Anthony Murray speaks to Carolyn Hoover, Chief Executive of dotCooperation — the management organsiation that oversees the movement's...

As the co-operative domain name, dotCoop, reaches its tenth anniversary, Anthony Murray speaks to Carolyn Hoover, Chief Executive of dotCooperation — the management organsiation that oversees the movement's space on the web.

Congratulations on reaching the tenth anniversary of dotCoop. How have you seen the past decade for the organisation?

Setting up a new Internet domain in 2001 and 2002 was a “brave new frontier” and with support from our technical partners in the UK, the global influence of the International Co-operative Alliance and a lot of hard work we have succeeded. dotCoop the organization and .coop the Internet domain are now poised for even greater visibility going forward.

After reaching this significant tenth anniversary, what is on the agenda for dotCoop over the next decade?

Just like the goals associated with the International Year of Cooperatives, we look at the next ten years as a time of potential extraordinary growth of cooperatives. We are working to make sure that these new co-ops are aware of and can easily use a .coop domain to provide a unifying cooperative identity to make the cooperative community even more visible to consumers at all levels.

What challenges have faced dotCoop and how did you overcome them?

The first challenge was getting the system infrastructure in place and actually being able to activate our first .coop websites and email addresses in January 2002. Today there are a number of companies that offer these services but at that time the systems had to be developed from scratch. In addition, we had to build the verification process that ensured that the names were being registered and used only by co-ops – and that was unique on the Internet at that time.

The other challenges were ensuring that cooperatives were alerted to the availability of the .coop domain for their use. That continues to be an ongoing effort as people come and go in cooperative businesses and organizations around the world. Many people are simply used to the old .com and .org domains or the .co.uk, .de and .br country code domains. If they have been working in other businesses and come to a cooperative, they may not realize from a business or marketing perspective, the value of the cooperative identity to a cooperative business. We are constantly educating new users about this value and that .coop exists to provide this value to cooperatives globally.

It is a large remit for such a small organisation to have global coverage; how does dotCoop and its board manage such a massive geographical area?

The .coop domain – just like other gTLDs (generic Top Level Domains) – is meant to be used globally. The use is not restricted to a particular location such as some country code domains; it is only restricted to cooperatives and cooperative organizations. So the challenge is to providing information in a broad enough set of languages that people can learn about .coop no matter where their co-op is located.

The advent of online translation tools has been very helpful in this effort so that our websites are now more accessible. In addition, our expanding set of registrars who actually act as our retail partners to sell .coop domains, registries like dotCoop cannot sell domain names directly, has provided local language support for that function.

Who are the people behind dotCoop; and what is the make-up of its board?

I am the Chief Executive Officer and handle the day-to-day activities of dotCoop, including handling the verification process. Paul Hazen, the outgoing CEO and President of the National Cooperative Business Association in the US, has been serving as the President of dotCoop since its inception in 2001 prior to the launch of .coop.

The technical infrastructure of the .coop domain is provided by the Midcounties Cooperative Domains which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Midcounties Co-operative Society in the UK. They have done a fantastic job providing a stable operational platform for .coop domains as well as websites such as the www.coop site with our basic information, www.directory.coop which features our newly revised directory of .coop sites and the www.globalawards.coop site highlighting the dotCoop Global Awards for Cooperative Excellence.

In addition, our twelve registrars provide a variety of services to .coop registrants – they are listed on the www.coop site.

We are fortunate to have a Board that currently has members from China, France, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States. This provides dotCoop with excellent feedback on planned efforts both in existing areas of co-op participation but in areas that are anticipating growth in their cooperative sectors and Internet use. We work with the ICA to identify and include Board members to maintain the needed diversity to serve the global community.

And while you have that global reach through your board; how do you feel the awareness of the .coop domain among both co-operatives and members has been and what can be done to improve this?

The awareness certainly is something that we continue to try to improve. As I have already said, it is a continuing educational process. And many co-ops that have a .coop domain still continue to use a .com, .org or .co.uk without really understanding how the .coop domain can help them identify themselves as ethical businesses to their members, their customers and the general community.

To really make people aware of .coop (and cooperatives) we need a strong effort by cooperative organizations at every level to use .coop themselves and to support their members in understanding the value of .coop and in making it available to their members. dotCoop is happy to work with co-op organizations to provide information to their members to make this a joint or “cooperative” effort!

Ten years ago dotCoop was one of the few new top level domains approved by the Internet registry ICANN; this customisation of the Internet with individual domain names for sectors and movements is set to explode over the next few years — is this a good thing?

We see this as a good thing for .coop because people will become more accustomed to looking at the TLD (the part of the domain name at the end of the domain) for more information about the business or organization. Now, every business or natural person or entity can have and use a .com address. In the future, people will expect a cooperative to have a .coop address. We think that will also help to build a stronger awareness of “communities” on the Internet.

At the time of dotCoop being established other top level domains were registered for various communities, such as .museum, .aero — how has .coop performed against those other niche domains? Have any lessons been learned from them?

The .museum TLD has remained relatively small based on their community size. .aero had previously removed initial restrictions on registrations for certain domains and also reduced their base price; and its domain count is about the same as that of .coop.

Lessons learned. Well, .aero did see a jump in registrations when they reduced their base price. With our First Year Free program, we think we have a good alternative for that so that we can make .coop accessible to more cooperatives but at the same time ensure that we meet our goals of covering our expenses for running the TLD.

We also examined how the various TLDs validated the members of their community and are just now making an enhanced verification process called the Cooperative Verification Code that we will be offering to our registrars. It streamlines the verification process and allows registrars to integrate the verification and registration process. Of course, co-ops can also come directly to us before they register. It’s like getting qualified for a loan before purchasing a house.

While the .coop domain speaks for co-operatives across the world; in places like Russia, China and Japan, which doesn't use roman characters, are you missing out on some potentially massive markets here? Or does this conversion of the .coop domain to other language scripts depend on local initiatives to make this happen?

We would definitely like to work with any group that would like to consider offering the .coop domain in a different script; that way we could have registrants that have domains in both roman and other scripts so that they could reach global markets more easily.

Smaller co-operatives, such as worker co-ops, find the cost of a .coop domain quite high compared to .com or country equivalents. Are there any plans to decrease costs; or is this something to be looked at once dotCoop achieves high-growth?

Cost is a concern and we do strive to keep the cost of .coop as low as possible and still cover our expenses. We need to do that to make .coop a viable enterprise to be able to continue supporting a global Internet community for co-ops. Even small steps in registration growth will allow us to reduce charges. We continue to promote .coop within the resources available to reach those steps.

The criteria for a dotCoop domain is quite narrow; this is to ensure only bona-fide co-ops register. Is this criteria working well or can it hinder growth?

The criteria are very rigorous, I agree. Recently, at the ICA General Assembly in Cancun, a proposal was put forward to allow individuals to show their support of cooperatives by registering .coop domains. That is an idea that was originally considered but there was concern over how the websites developed by individuals might be used and this was left out of the approved criteria. These and other ideas probably should be explored again – I would like to hear from your readers on this idea – would they buy a .coop domain if they could?

• dotCoop domains are available to buy from www.domains.coop. To contact Carolyn Hoover, visit the dotCoop registry website for contact details.

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