Small businesses are demanding a better answers about the forthcoming introduction of “.au” domain names, with a former non-executive director of the domain registry body auDA warning the rollout of the new domains could result in a long period of “David and Goliath” battles for web addresses.
On Tuesday, SEO expert Jim Stewart raised concerns about discussions auDA has been having in policy review meetings about the introduction of “.au” domains, including the suggestion that organisations that registered “.com.au” sites after April 2016 would have to apply and potentially fight it out to claim their equivalent “.au” domains.
This process could cause significant financial and time costs to small businesses, said Stewart.
The domain registry body has told SmartCompany it is continuing to gather feedback about how direct registrations for these new domains would work in practice. An exact timeline for the introduction of the new system is not yet finalised.
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However, business owners have vented their frustration in comments on SmartCompany’s article, questioning whether there is in fact a legitimate need for a new range of domain addresses in the first place.
“What a load of bollocks,” said one comment writer.
“It smacks of an idea hatched in a pub after far too many beers.”
“It is common knowledge the dominant and most aware extension in Australia is .com.au. Why disrupt this and cause confusion and chaos in our ecosystem?” asked another.
Josh Rowe, who previously served as a non-executive director of auDA for 14 years, tells SmartCompany he has also been waiting for a solid explanation from the organisation about why “.au” domains are necessary.
“I’m quite open minded about being able to be convinced there is a need, but the issue is, no case has been put forward,” says Rowe, who finished in his auDA role in 2015.
“There’s been no clear case made for the expansion of the domain space, and to my understanding, it’s not like ‘.com.au’ names are running out.”
In response to questions from SmartCompany this morning, auDA said the idea for “.au” domains stemmed from the 2015 “Names Policy Panel” report, which saw multiple rounds of stakeholder feedback collected on issues, including on the idea of a direct “.au” registration.
“In addition to the public consultations by the panel, auDA’s board also commissioned independent market research, which showed that 60% of respondents were likely or highly likely to register “yourname.au” if it was available,” am auDA spokesperson said.
The auDA spokesperson said benefits of the new type of domain include more memorable site names and more choice for registrants about their website names. However, when asked whether the organisation sees any potential risks to businesses from the introduction of these site names causing SEO issues, auDA said it was “not an SEO agency and cannot advise on potential SEO issues”.
Consultation is still underway for how the new addresses will be rolled out, but even with no specific dates, Rowe says the organisation has questions to answer about the policy idea.
“Is auDA in the business of just trying to sustain the domain name industry, or is it there to support the economy and the ‘au’ brand?” he asks.
The case for change
AuDA, or “.au Administration Ltd”, is the self-regulatory body for domain registrations in Australia.
In 2000, the federal government formally endorsed it to administrate Australian web domains. However, at the end of 2017, the Department of Communications and the Arts launched an inquiry into the management of domain registrations in Australia.
The inquiry came after months of alleged upheaval and mismanagement at auDA, which has seen a number of its board members and executive team members depart in recent years.
A report from the inquiry was slated to be released early this year.
In its statement to the inquiry, auDA said the domain space was facing a number of key challenges that must be dealt with in future, including that “total domains under management will peak and start to decline”, which will place “commercial pressure” on the .au domain space overall.
However, Rowe says he and others in the business community have not heard a solid answer about how Australian organisations will benefit from a new domain name option.
“There has been no proof for us,” he says.
He believes even if there was a business case was established for the new address system, the idea that thousands of new “.au” website addresses could be contested would lead to countless “David and Goliath” battles where small and big businesses would have to negotiate to claim a domain name.
There are also problems if contested addresses are to be decided by chance, such as through a lottery, he says.
“If it was a lottery system, maybe that’s nice, but perhaps down the track, the small guy has won, and the big guy takes them to court for it [the address],” he says.
Domain name changes remain a challenge
In other submissions to the government’s inquiry on the domain name space, critics of the “.au” domains argue auDA has “no mandate” to introduce the change in the first place.
In an anonymous submission on the issue, one website owner says he currently has eight registered “.com.au” domains, and the change would be “outrageous”.
“There is absolutely no benefit for businesses in having an additional domain name to manage. It is simply an additional expense and an un-necessary overhead,” the business owner said.
Rowe believes the introduction of the new addresses would also cause significant operational expenses for businesses, particularly SMEs.
“There is every other element of changing a domain name to consider — retail signage, your business cards, all that. It is massive.”