Local domains for local people

Will new top level domains, including .London, bring order or chaos to the net?

Inside the enterprise: "This is a local shop for local people. Nothing to see here." That's a catchphrase from TV comedy The League of Gentlemen, and was a send-up of all that is parochial about English towns.

But if Royston Vasey - the fictitious village where the League of Gentlemen was set - was for local people, how would that sentiment translate to the internet? A new series of top level domains (TLDs), is posing the question of how local is local enough.

The new TLDs, which include .London, are now in a "sunrise" registration period. This means brand owners can secure their trademarks under the new domain, before registration opens to potentially any internet user.

Internet watchers have suggested iconic brands will want to secure their .London domain. Harrods.London has been mooted. But this is where localism, and the global reach of the internet, collide.

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Harrods bills itself as "Harrods of Knightsbridge" rather than of London. But .Knightsbridge is not yet available as a TLD. Nor are other districts of London, or other large cities. A domain such as .Soho or .City could appeal; .Chelsea might have as much resonance with football fans as with fashionistas.

This is where localism, and the global reach of the internet, collide.

Interestingly, Harrods does not actually use a .co.uk domain. Rather it, and a host of other iconic British brands, use .com. Much of this is to do with creating a global presence. Some of it is to do with search engine positioning. And, at least in part, companies have been forced to register their dot com domains to stop others from doing so. And if you own it, it makes sense to use it.

This also raises the issue of cost. A proliferation of TLDs means more costs, in registration fees, and more time and effort for businesses in managing their online identities. Recent TLDs, such as .xxx, may be ones that can be ignored by most mainstream organisations. But city-level domains are another matter. Brand and business owners may feel obliged to register them, and absorb the expense.

The other question is whether more local TLDs really help customers find businesses, or whether it is really a way of putting extra domains into the market.

At the moment, new TLDs such as .London and .Scotland are too broad to help people find a business close to them. And if the business is global, search engines will find it anyway. A more local system, based around a recognised system of sub-domains, could be more effective.

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The public sector has already gone a way down this road, with its subdomain system for local government and schools. This, at least, makes it easy to find the right school, housing department, or local tip from what could be a confusing number of online search results. But it also makes it clear that you are searching for, say, Richmond, Surrey, rather than Richmond, Virginia.

Perhaps shop.roystonvasey.co.uk could be the way forward. But only for local people, of course.

Stephen Pritchard is contributing editor at IT Pro.

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