- Nov 4, 2020
Can venerable .ca domain extension survive looming Internet explosion?
As it approaches its 25th anniversary, .ca has more than celebration on its mind.
There’s also survival.
This country’s leading domain extension is heading into its second year of beating the .com behemoth as the top choice of new registrants in Canada, but serious competition lies ahead.
New options coming on board could include .online, .lol and .style, leaving .ca fighting to maintain market share.
By next summer, hundreds of new top-level domains approved by Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the California-based regulator which polices the web, should start rolling out.
“I’d say it probably presents one of the biggest challenges that we’ve faced, because nobody knows exactly how this is going to play out,” said Byron Holland, president and CEO of Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) the non-profit which oversees the .ca system.
“On the other hand, like anytime you deregulate an industry, which is sort of what’s going on here, there will be some consumer confusion, all of those new brands are going to have to figure out how to speak to people and attract new users.”
He’s banking on the organization’s 25-year head start and reputation.
“We’ve been the beneficiary of Canada having a pretty good brand lately,” said Holland. “We have a strong user base, a clear value proposition being Canadian and being very safe, secure and trusted in terms of the registry.”
Canadianism is a factor: to qualify for .ca you have to be a registered Canadian business or institution, or a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or landed immigrant.
Cassels Brock intellectual property lawyer John McKeown acknowledges .ca faces “increased competition. However, “I think they’re well positioned: they’ve got all the benefits of a geographical top level domain name, because for people who want to be associated with Canada, that’s the domain name of choice.”
But naming specialist Naseem Javed, head of the Brampton-based ABC Namebank, believes the expanded domain name offerings will quickly usurp two-letter country codes, also known as strings.
“The country codes work well within your own geographic area, but they’re a disaster outside,” he said. “The domain names not designed for nationalistic purposes; they are really designed to get you more clicks, more hits, more business, more visibility.”
Cities such as Barcelona and New York applied for their brand strings, and the Boston Globe Newspaper Company asked for .boston, but the only Canadian destination request before ICANN’s spring deadline was for .quebec. That request was by PointQuébec, which describes itself as a non-profit designed “to promote culture, tourism and commerce on the Internet.”
There were 60,000 .ca registrants when CIRA assumed control of it in 2000. CIRA, which now has 60 employees, grew that to a million registrants by 2008 and is on track to double that by the end of this year.
Along the way, the annual wholesale registration price dropped from about $50 per year to $8.50.
The .ca system was launched in 1987 by University of British Columbia volunteers who signed up the initial users —University of Prince Edward Island was first — a year later.
“I’m not overdramatizing this to say it was a server under (manager of Computing Facilities at the Department of Computer Science) John Demco’s desk in the basement lab of UBC,” said Holland. “You’d send them an email with your information and they would literally, physically enter them one at a time.”
Today, .ca is the world’s 14th-largest country code domain registry, with the fourth-highest growth rate among all domain registries over the past five years.