As expected, the latest decision to approve the .cat, cultural and linguistic sTLD (sponsored top level domain) domain for Catalunya, has caused quite a bit of commotion coming from a number of angles. So after the first .cat story, it’s only in due hand that a follow up story be written for those of you with peaked interest.
The decision the ICANN came to, after what appears to have been a year and a half of deliberations, is completely unprecedented and will, without a doubt lay way for plenty of unrest both in the political and internet realm. In Spain alone, there is already turmoil brewing for the National Government. TLDs to this day, have been given to countries, entities (.org) even topic domains (.jobs, .kids). However, there are still no regional TLDs, and until .cat, there were no cultural or linguistic ones. Of course, Catalunya received a sTLD (sponsored Top Level Domain). But a part from being awarded the .cat domain, Catalunya is also waiting for approval of the .ct domain. This, just by default, would compare Catalunya to a country—like .es for Spain, for example. The implications of that are extraordinary, particularly given the fact that Catalunya is highly nationalist. In fact, the decision has already caused an uproar. The Valencian (another Spanish autonomous community) government is very concerned about the repercussions the new Catalan domain will have on the Valencian culture. Although Valencia is an autonomous community like Catalunya, a part of its population also speaks Catalan. Not to mention that they believe it’s the first step to Catalan independence. So far, these are the immediate effects in Spain. Certainly, in the near future, the decision will also have a ripple effect outside of Spain.
There are plenty of scenarios to look at and more than a few imperative questions to ask.
Why did ICANN approve the .cat domain?
Knowing full well that they were opening a pandora’s box when they approved the linguistic/cultural domain, what brought them to their decision? Not to mention that if they also approve the other, .ct, regional TLD that Catalunya also applied for, Catalunya in essence, as far as the internet is concerned, will look like any other country.
In November of 2004, ICANN contacted the Spanish Government, asking whether there were any objections to the proposed .cat domain. In response, during a senate session, Jose Montillo, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Commerce, stated that “It is not the government who authorizes or refuses domains.” He also pointed out that only states recognized by the United Nations are eligible for a National, or top level domain. And that was that as far as the Spanish government is concerned.
Because securing the .ct domain is no easy task given the demanding ISO-3166 requirements, Catalunya’s nationalists are still trying, but they were able to land the sponsored .cat domain. To get a sponsored domain, one must have a special community behind it, which will in turn decide which individuals, organizations or entities can register under the said domain, depending on whether they belong in the community or not. PuntoCat, a Catalan association formed for the purpose sponsoring .cat, was able to collect 68,000 signatures not only requesting the domain, but also reinforcing the existence of the required community. So far so good. Let’s take a look at an excerpt of PuntoCat’s application to the ICANN.
This is PuntoCat’s introduction, explaining why the sTLD exist in the first place. But why an sTLD for Catalunya? “It is only natural therefore that puntCAT applies for a .cat sTLD. The Internet is a lot of things, but probably the most important is a communication space (and means)…” Essentially, the idea behind the .cat domain is to create a communication medium that would help bring together members of its community under one roof.
Essentially, the idea behind the .cat domain is to create a communication medium that would help bring together members of its community under one roof. But here is where it gets tricky. First of all, if this was the primary goal behind getting a TLD in the first place, then why aim for the .ct to follow? These are questions that everyone with a long-term vision ought to be asking. True, the internet is meant to bring us all together, by creating a special nest for everyone, but how segmented are we willing to allow it to become? Segmentation for the sake of diversifying is a very valuable and necessary thing. However, with this type of segmentation, there is also a very fine line, easily crossed and not to be missed. To illustrate this fine line, there is no need to look far, just looking at the top of the application PuntoCat submitted to ICANN, it reads: Company Country: Catalonia (European Union). That alone is a very strong indication of what the foundations of the domain request are, and in what direction all this is heading.
Envisioning a new kind of Internet. Domains for every language and culture?
PuntoCat suggests matching languages with their own domains. In a very bold editorial piece, Eduardo Pedreño of LibertadDigital.com writes, “The ICANN has opened the door to the absurd, to domains promoted with political interest, to the ‘tribalization’ of the domain and to the ludicrousness of converting what should be domains for everyone to domains for a few.” For Catalunya, receiving the .cat domain was a unique victory—a nationalist victory without a doubt. But where does this victory lead others. PuntoCat speaks only for themselves, for their needs. And rightly so. Certainly ICANN will have a lot on their hands as the begin receiving other, likewise legitimate (given the requirements) applications. There are plenty of jokes out there about which linguistic or cultural community will be the next contender. But all jokes aside, this is no laughing matter.
Eduardo Pedreño argues that the decision was a setback for the internet community as a whole. Without a doubt what brings some people together will break others a part. Given the situation in Spain, the government will have to change their tune. However, in the internet arena, there are even more uncertainties to speculate about.
What about the search engines?
Discussions and speculations of whether search engines give preference to country specific domains when a user performs a search query in a given language, selecting a specific country are all over the forums. Now throw this new linguistic and cultural domain ingredient into the cauldron and it becomes even more uncertain. What will happen, say in Google, when someone searches in Catalan. Will the .cat domains receive a special boost? They would be more relevant after all, considering that PuntoCat will only assign domains to real members of the Catalan community. For companies, or anyone for that matter, knowing that their website might as well not exist if it isn’t readily available on the engines, this is vital information. In fact, how the search engines treat this matter, can very well have a strong impact on whether the .cat domain and similar domains to come succeed or fail. For now these are only questions. The new sTLD was approved only days ago.
Multilingual Search has contacted a few major and minor search engines. Perhaps with time, the answers will come out.
So far, Miguel Acosta, European Business Development Director for Ask Jeeves, gave the following answer: “The truth is that at Ask Jeeves we don’t enter into the debate. Our “spider” crawls all websites in Spain, for that reason the results will be indexed (and will appear ordered in function of relevancy independent of language).”
It will be interesting to hear from the other big players. In Spain, Seekport, a lightweight, may have an advantage in that the engine already allows the user to select from Catala, Euskara, Galego and Castellano. However, how they treat the domains remains uncertain–much like everything else this unparalleled decision is bound to have an effect on. Now that ICANN has given birth to the .cat, there’s no telling what might come next.
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