Should dot-US really be dot-USA?
In many ways a great anomaly of the Domain Name System is that one of the largest countries, with one of the highest number of Internet users, that was at the core of inventing both the Internet and the Domain Name System, makes relatively little use of its own Country Domain (ccTLD, or Country Code Top Level Domain). That country is The United States of America and its top level domain dot-US – an extension that is unknown to many Americans.
The UK has about 60 million Internet users and there are about 11 million domain names registered in dot-UK. Germany has about 71 million internet users and there are about 16 million domain names registered in dot-DE. However, the US has about 287 million Internet users but there are only about 1.7 million names registered in dot-US.
So the question is why?
To understand the history of the Top Level Domains we have to go back to October 1984 and the release of a document with the rather esoteric name of RFC-920. “RFC” stands for “Request For Comments” and these documents constitute the standards on which the internet is constructed.
RFC-920 documents the initial creation of the first Top Level Domains – COM, NET, EDU, MIL and GOV as well as ARPA, that was originally retained for historical reasons, but in fact still exists today – mostly for technical uses, rather than the end-user usage of the others.
RFC-920 also specifies that all countries can be represented individually using a two character code taken from a document called ISO-3166. “ISO” is the International Organization for Standardization (www.iso.org) – they are an international body comprised of 163 different countries that agree various international standards. Two parts of the 3166 standard specifies the two and three alphabetic letters that should be used to represent countries, ISO3166-1 Alpha-2 and ISO3166-1 Alpha-3
In RFC-920 it is envisaged that any of the top level domains could be used by any organisation meeting the requirements. However, ten years later, by the time RFC-1591 was published in March 1994, the domains GOV and MIL are stipulated as reserved for the exclusive use of the US Government & Military. This exclusive adoption of GOV & MIL by the USG may be the factor that also drove the adoption of COM as the go-to space for US businesses, instead of dot-US – despite the fact that dot-US was the first country to be added into the top level in February 1985.
There's clearly no shortage of patriotism in the USA – they just don't seem to feel an emotional connection with dot-US. Perhaps not quite so surprising when you consider the usual abbreviation for The United States of America is “America” - the one letter that is missing.
So could The USA be given dot-USA?
There's probably no reason why not. From a technical perspective, for example, making all names exist in both dot-US and dot-USA would be a relatively trivial task and avoid any confusion that would arise if different people owned NAME.US and NAME.USA
ISO3166-1 Alpha-3 specifies the three letter abbreviation for America to be “USA” and ICANN have specifically reserved all names, of any description, in ISO3166 – so would never allow these to be registered as a commercial top level domain, without the explicit permission of the country.
Would it solve the problem? Would people use it?
That's a question which is almost impossible to answer, but one extremely well know God-Father of the domain industry, Rick “Domain King” Schwartz, thinks so. On Twitter, Rick has expressed the opinion that dot-USA is the one domain he would really like to see.
The heart of America is built on the bedrock of thousands of small towns that spread far and wide across every state – which are characterised by the great family-run “Mom & Pop” local businesses that not only support their residence, but are often the beating hearts of their communities. These are the sorts of businesses that are never going to want to be any kind of great multi-national dot-COM Silicon Valley hot-shots, so would probably be proud to show support for their country by wearing a dot-USA domain name over their front door.
If dot-COM is a by-word for a big multi-national with worldwide ambition, a dot-USA could be a by-word for “proud to be an American”.
The irony of America avoiding dot-US but adopting dot-COM as their own, as well as it being used by all the big multi-nationals, is that The USA has missed out on having its own individual identity in cyberspace, which seems such a bit of a shame.
So what next?
Option-1 – ICANN could simply release all ISO3166-1 Alpha-3 codes to the current holders of the ISO3166-1 Alpha-2, i.e. the individual nation states, and let each country decide what they are going to do with their respective Alpha-3 code.
Mostly they make quite meaningless reading although there are a few that could be quite cute to have around, like dot-CUB (Cuba) or dot-MEX (Mexico) or dot-DOM (Dominican Republic).
One problem with this plan could be Comoros, as their Alpha-3 code is COM. However, their Alpha-2 code is KM, so they could easily be given KOM instead.
Some of the two character domain names do not correspond directly with a country's Alpah-2 code – most notable the United Kingdom which is mostly represented on the Internet as dot-UK, where as their Alpha-2 code is GB (which also exists as a top level domain, owned by the UK, but is mostly unused).
Option-2 – A well connected commercial organisation could seek the special permission of the US Government to be granted the dot-USA top level domain. Although theortically possible, this seems both unlikely and undesirable because it would cause confusion with dot-US.
Failing either of those, may be some brave commercial organisation could apply for dot-TheUSA or dot-USofA in the next round of applications for new generic top level domains— although this could be a very risky strategy as their entire business model would disappear overnight if dot-USA ever came into existence.
So come-on Neustar, get the pens and paper out.