For a long time people or businesses registering domain names did not have much choice on what came to the right of the dot in their web addresses. You needed to get a .CA, a .com or one of another small set of top-level domains (or TLDs in domain industry jargon). This all changed in 2008 when ICANN announced an application process to implement new generic TLDs.
Hundreds of organizations jumped on the opportunity to carve out their own piece of the internet, including over 60 with a distinct geographic focus. This has resulted in web addresses ending in .nyc, .london, .berlin and .vegas. Based on the growing success of these addresses, a councillor in Toronto is suggesting the city begin the process of applying for its own municipal domain.
This has sparked discussion over potential costs and effects of the application (Toronto Star, Metro). Cities considering applying during the next application round can consider municipal domains as a branding and business opportunity. From information delivery to keyword-friendly URLs, municipal domains can deliver long-standing benefits to citizens and local business. Three key opportunities are discussed below.
Customized, relevant information
Municipal domains unlock new opportunities for cities to engage with citizens and create valuable, relevant addresses. As the owner of a municipal domain, the city is able to reserve or allocate domain names exclusively for municipal purposes. This includes everything from mayor.toronto to civic addresses or neighbourhoods.
Neighborhoods.nyc provides a great example of using a municipal domain for civic benefit. On the website, users enter their borough to map key information such as transit, construction and traffic updates. Imagine visiting youraddress.toronto and finding street or neighbourhood-level information on elections, traffic, snow plow schedules and garbage pickup.
Cities already collect and share this information as part of their Smart City big data initiatives. Toronto's open data catalogue currently contains detailed information on transit schedules, cultural facilities, health inspections, parking tickets and much more. A municipal domain simply allows the city to provide this data to citizens at an easy to remember web address.
Easy to find city services
The previous section mentioned the city's ability to reserve web addresses for municipal purposes. This can go well beyond neighbourhood-specific information to touch on any city service or bylaw.
As an example, cat and dog owners in Ottawa must pay a small fee to register their pets with the city. Residents can manage this process online through the City of Ottawa's website. To access the page (assuming the user missed the link under “What's New” on the homepage), the route to find the registration page looks like this: Ottawa.ca - Residents - Animals and pets - Cat and dog registration - Online payment page.
It would be easier to visit pets.ottawa to register a pet and access information on pet-related city bylaws. This direct access would be possible through a municipal domain, as the city could reserve short and memorable addresses for key departments and civic organizations. This means no more successions of backslashes and links when trying to access information.
The pet example could be expanded to make any bylaw or city service easily accessible such as tourism.ottawa, parking.ottawa, business.ottawa or elections.ottawa. Any legacy systems or city documents on the old domain can be redirected, allowing for a convenient transition period where the old and new merrily co-exist.
Business opportunity or city building? It is both!
Municipal domain names provide major opportunity for local businesses with websites or e-commerce features. It is unlikely that the family owned pizza place down the street will ever have pizza.com or pizza.ca, but there is a chance they could register pizza.toronto. Moreover, common words could be held back by the city and sold at a higher price or be used as a focused portal for local entrepreneurs, like hotels.toronto. London, for example, publicized a domain auction of premium domains and all the proceeds went to local charities.
The city can promote the opportunity for local enterprises to have a name that better matches their business. For example, joespizza.toronto could be made available, saving them from registering something less memorable like joespizzaonkipling.com.
For citizens, it provides the benefit of knowing the business is local and caters to a specific geographic area. With municipal domains, there will be no question whether websites for dry cleaning, plumbing or daycare services are for companies in a specific city. Plus, the web addresses are likely to be shorter and easier to remember. Moreover, since the platform is being administered by the city itself, consumers have a higher level of trust knowing the website owner is subject to scrutiny and must operate the site within the rules set by the city.
Businesses with a global presence can use the municipal domain to customize branding for regional offerings. For any city, there is branding value to have a municipal domain built into the tens of thousands of operating businesses that promote goods and services locally, nation-wide and globally.
Learn more about launching a gTLD and how CIRA can help on our Registry Services page.