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direct.uk – Taking The co Out Of co uk

Direct.uk - Second Level UK Domain Names

Second Level Domains: Who Will Get Yours?

Nominet, the not-for-profit organisation that administers all of the .uk domain names (web addresses), recently announced direct.uk, a proposal for the launch of a new second level .uk commercial domain space. Put simply, to allow businesses to buy a domain in the form domain.uk. You have to admit that it sounds and looks a lot neater than domain.co.uk, so maybe this is a good idea.

Along with these .uk domains will come new built-in features such as owner verification, anti-malware detection and digital signatures, all designed to offer a higher level of security to both website visitors and domain owners. All potentially good offerings and, significantly, all able to be offered on your current .co.uk domains, albeit at a price. Oh yes, price, expect to pay something over £20 a year per .uk domain (based on Nominet’s current estimate). That’s an increase in cost over .co.uk domains of approximately 800%, from a not-for-profit that’s been accumulating a surplus since 2003.

A surprising element of the current proposal is that these .uk domains are to exist alongside .co.uk and not replace them; duplicate renewals therefore if you want to protect your brand. I have to admit that I never saw that one coming, for a number of reasons, but not least the confusion it’ll cause. Nominet are effectively proposing to introduce enhanced .uk domains which by inference will make all .co.uk domain names second best and ultimately probably worthless, deemed to be untrustworthy.

The longer term future of .co.uk is certainly in doubt as this proposal stands. Indeed I can imagine .co.uk disappearing all together at some point and the migration from .co.uk to .uk (which probably most industry insiders would have expected) will have happened anyway.

If you are a .co.uk domain owner, who has perhaps spent many years and much of your ad budget promoting your web address, in any number of channels, you’re probably getting anxious to know what your rights are should this launch go ahead. You’ll need to secure the new version of your domain name, as it seems inevitable that it’ll become the new de facto UK commercial domain to have.

Nominet are proposing to protect owners of existing rights by releasing these domains in a series of Sunrise phases, the highest priority is to be given to those with registered rights (trade mark holders) and then a later Sunrise phase will allow applications from those with unregistered rights (primarily existing domain owners and limited company name holders), although there are conditions attached.

I hope that you put those intellectual property rights in place and secured your trade mark! Even if you did and you get your chance at the first Sunrise phase, if others with the same trade mark do the same you’ll find yourself in a bidding war. The plan is to auction any domains with more than one application. By the time we get to the second Sunrise phase not only will there be fewer domains available, but there’ll also be a lot more applications made. You will by no means be guaranteed ownership of your current domain(s) in the corresponding .uk format.

Nominet consider this proposal to be the creation of a new domain space and therefore treat registered rights as paramount. I consider it to be a refinement of an existing space and that the rights of current registrants of .co.uk should in these circumstances take precedence. The whole issue of existing rights only exists because this proposal rejects a migration in favour of a “co-existence”. Registered rights holders are already protected via Nominet’s dispute resolution service.

UK businesses stand to lose out of if this proposal goes ahead. Apart from the costs of re-branding (website changes and migration, stationery, advertising etc.), domain owners may need to be able to defend themselves with deep pockets if they have to compete to win their domain. Don’t forget the poor British public who’ll lose out too, confused by yet another type of web address; apparently more choice is what we want.

If this proposed .uk situation is all sounding like a bit of a mess and is causing you concern then please send your comments to Nominet and also highlight this issue to any business groups or networks you are members of.

The consultation period for this proposal means submissions must be made before 7th January 2013, until then all stakeholders are encouraged to make their views known; if you own a .co.uk domain you are a stakeholder. To date Nominet have only contacted a small group of stakeholders about this consultation and have not confirmed with me whether they intend to contact all domain owners. Visit the Nominet direct.uk consultation page for more information regarding what’s being proposed. Download a copy of their consultation document for details of the Sunrise process; the FAQ’s make good reading too. You can also request a hard copy of the consultation document or submit your comments via email by contacting Nominet.

As someone who owns a significant portfolio of .co.uk domain names I clearly have a lot to loose from this proposal in its current form and will be submitting my own comments. I have always championed the cause of small and medium size business on the internet and I can’t see how what’s being proposed will enhance the current situation, on the contrary. Even if .uk is the right solution this is the wrong way to go about it, based on what’s gone before within .co.uk; which was, according to Nominet – “The right place to be”.