Considering Nominet's proposals for direct.uk domains

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Date:
29 November 2012

Nominet is currently consulting on a proposal to release "direct.uk" domains - i.e. website.uk rather than website.co.uk - domains. These would be a new Top-Level Domain (TLD) space, .co.uk domains would continue to be valid and usable.

Considering Nominet's proposals for direct.uk domains

The key features of Nominet's proposal are

  • a new .uk domain space
  • mandatory use of DNSSEC as a digital signature to prevent domain hijacking
  • registrant verification
  • malware monitoring

Escrivo attended Nominet's round-table discussion in Glasgow yesterday and we thought it would be interesting to document a few notes made during the session.

The session was attended by a number of developers and Nominet registrars such as ourselves, as well as representatives from some large UK brands, a domain investor, and a number of IP lawyers.

The negatives we discussed

  • The key issues seem to be around confusion. ".co" domain registrants already suffer from some confusion (users considering the lack of ".uk" at the end of the domain is a typo, and adding ".uk" - ultimately arriving at the wrong website) and there was some concern that the use of ".uk" could create a similar problem in the medium term - users inserting the missing ".co" and arriving at the wrong website. This is perhaps mitigated by the use of search engines as the start of many online journeys.
  • Many of the larger organisations represented have identified that the cost of brand protection is already substantial; in addition to core domain registrations these organisations commonly need to consider various typo combinations in order to protect themselves and a new .uk TLD would simply add to this burden of protection and registration.
  • The additional features of the proposed .uk TLD imply that the cost of registrations is likely to be higher than the current .co.uk costs so there was some concern around registration fees as well as the overall administrative cost burden of brand protection.
  • Various concerns were raised about the proposed approaches to registrant verification, both in terms of achieving and maintaining accuracy throughout the life of the domain registration.
  • The addition of some form of malware scanning was pretty quickly agreed by the participants as a "step too far".

And on the positive side...

  • From a "big picture" perspective, there is a strong argument for the availability of .uk domains as ICANN moves the global domain system towards the release of hundreds of new gTLDs such as .bbc, .doctor, .scot, .wales and many more: in this context the .uk TLD makes sense as an alternative side-by-side with the new gTLDs.
  • The mandatory use of DNSSEC does indeed seem to be a valuable addition, although not all registrars and their nameservers can currently support DNSSEC records, so this might cause some challenges in the medium term. This might slow DNS resolution slightly although improved performance of DNS lookups on .uk (one less lookup than .co.uk) will to some extent balance this.
  • There is a strong argument that the new .uk domain space would provide an opportunity for UK businesses to acquire "stronger" domain names than they currently have access to. The current cry of "all the good .co.uk names have already been taken" would become less relevant as new equivalents in the .uk space would become available... this does however raise the question of how Nominet might run the release process for registrants that have a claim on the .uk version of a .co.uk that they already have.

Overall

The participants at yesterday's round-table certainly didn't reach a conclusion about the desirability of Nominet's direct.uk proposals. As the session closed, there were a variety of views around the table:

  • an administrative headache
  • an opportunity to start again
  • a devaluation of .co.uk domains
  • a revenue generation tactic by Nominet
  • a chance to put UK websites and domains on a par with others around the world
  • an opportunity to tighten some of the (very open) registration policies that Nominet has supported to date
  • a rebranding nightmare

One observation made by another registrar was that .uk domains would probably be very attractive to startups but very unattractive to businesses that already have some investment in .co.uk domains. A domain trader mourned the reduction of value in his current .co.uk portfolio but welcomed the new opportunities in the proposed new TLD.

Our view

Currently our view is that the proposal as it stands has several flaws.  We do however see value in the release of .uk in the context of the wider domain landscape, and to some extent the release of .uk is probably inevitable in the long term. On this basis it's probably better to do it, get it out of the way, and allow UK businesses to move on.

That said, the devil is in the detail, and we're looking forward to seeing a revised proposal from Nominet once the current consultation process completes. The full details of Nominet's consultation are available here: http://www.nominet.org.uk/go/directuk and you are invited to provide your feedback by 7 January 2013.

Escrivo is a Nominet Member and registrar, and provides corporate domain registration and portfolio management services for over 280 TLDs, including .co.uk.

For more information on the direct.uk consultation process or domain registration and management generally, please contact us by phone on +44 131 225 8199 or complete our contact form.