The new .uk domains seem to be unstoppable, despite the many potential drawbacks for UK businesses and consumers. 

Here are a few reasons why I, and others, think this is a bad idea…

There is no real demand for it

The .co.uk domain works perfectly well for the country’s online businesses, and there is no urgent need to change it nor any major sign of demand from businesses or consumers. 

In fact, the only justification I can find comes from research that “79% of British consumers prefer to use a .uk domain when buying online”.

This figure comes from Nominet’s own research, carried out in 2011 and, since I cannot find the full survey or methodology anywhere, it’s hard to make sense of that statistic. 

It’s effectively a tax on the UK’s digital economy

If you have a site on the .co.uk domain, then you’re effectively obliged to buy the .uk version. This is for several reasons: 

  • If .uk becomes the domain for the UK, you can’t afford not to have one for your site. 
  • Fraud. Someone could easily buy the .uk version of your site and use it for phishing, as the distinction between .uk and .co.uk is a subtle one. 
  • Exploitation by competitors. A competitor site could buy the .uk version of your domain and use it to siphon off a chunk of your search traffic. 

Estimates vary, but some guess that the new domains could cost the UK’s digital businesses between £50m and more than £100m when you take into account the costs of acquiring the new domains, changing stationery, staff time, technical changes, PPC and so on. 

As Dan Barker points out, “it’s quite sad to think of the amount of money it would cost UK business, with no real upside”.

It benefits Nominet and its members more than anyone

The benefits of the new domain extension are unclear at best for businesses, but the extra renewal fees will certainly benefit Nominet. 

Depending on the uptake, and based on a £5 per year renewal fee, Nominet stands to make more than £25m, and perhaps £40m+ from .uk. (thanks to Edwin Hayward)

The Nominet voting system isn’t exactly democratic

As Emily Taylor explains in this excellent article, the voting system in Nominet is somewhat puzzling to an outsider. It’s reminiscent of rotten boroughs from the 19th century and before. 

It isn’t one member, one vote. No, for each domain you possess, you get an extra vote. Thus, the big domain businesses control most of the votes.

Just 1% of Nominet’s membership controls over 60% of its voting power. Therefore, is it any surprise that policy coming from Nominet favours the interests of this 1%?

The security justifications for the new domains are not backed up by the facts

Nominet has tied the new domain changes into security measures meant to reduce the £27bn lost to online crime in the UK each year. 

First of all, much of that £27bn comes from IP theft, which the new measures won’t deal with. Secondly, if security is an issue, why not introduce these measures for existing domains? 

Nominet has not really answered this question effectively,but one thing is clear. Security is not a justification for .uk domains. 

It devalues .co.uk 

This Nominet website is still promoting .co.uk as a great place to be, but it’s about to reduce the value of these domains. 

How? Here are just two ways:

  • SEO. Will the new .uk domain carry more weight with the search engines? If so, then your search position is at risk. 
  • Security. If the new domains are billed as more secure, this implies that the others are riskier. 

The difficulty of acquiring the .uk version of your current domain

Let’s hope, if you’re an online business, you have the .org.uk, .plc.uk (and so on) versions of your domain, as well as the .co.uk version. 

Otherwise, you may face a battle to grab your .uk domain. This kind of confusion does not help business. 

According to Nominet’s consultation document:

We propose to grant registrants of existing third level domain names under Nominet’s management (.co.uk, .org.uk, .me.uk, .ltd.uk, .plc.uk, .sch.uk,) a six month period to exercise a right of first refusal to register the second level equivalent. Recognising the range of second levels that make up the register we propose to grant the right to the currently registered domain name string which has the earliest registration date. 

The modified release process would eliminate the need for detailed factual assessment of the merits of competing claims and the need for auctions to resolve ‘tie-break’ situations. On balance, we believe it would be fair, simple to use, less expensive to operate and less costly for end users and remain in line with the principles of first-come, first-served.

In summary

It seems likely that the new domains will go ahead, though this isn’t finally decided just yet, simply because the members of Nominet with the most influence (domain name businesses) are supporting it. 

However, it offers few, if any, real benefits for UK businesses, and promises to land them with lots of new costs, the uncertainty of acquiring new domains, and some real problems if they aren’t able to secure the new version of their current web address.

Nominet has so far failed to put forward a convincing business case. Bizarrely, it even says this isn’t its purpose when carrying out consultations. 

Quite simply, if a non-profit organisation which is supposed to exist for the benefit of all online businesses and internet users wants to bring a change with such potential impact, it’s not unreasonable to expect a solid business case. 

So, with no convincing business case for .uk, the potential costs and confusion for online business the proposed changes will bring, combined with the £25m+ Nominet stands to make from this, it’s hard not to be cynical… 

 

What do you think? Good or bad idea? Will you be grabbing the new .uk domain for your business? Let me know below…