Martin Hannan: A net gain if we can join the dots

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It is amazing what you learn these days when you have dealings with the internet.

Until recently, I had no idea that, contrary to the popular misconception, the internet is actually quite controlled, at least in one respect – not just anyone can set up a domain name with an ending such as .com or .org.

International organisations such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and its active department the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) have responsibility for ensuring that internet addresses work, and it’s a huge job. Its all about identifiers and ensuring that internet addresses don’t clash, and key to their role is the registration and supervision of domains.

Which is where Dot Scot comes in – what do you mean, you haven’t heard of this exciting campaign to put Scotland on the internet map? Actually, quite a lot of people haven’t yet heard about this seriously good idea, but that is going to change in the next few months.

The worldwide web is a fast developing phenomenon, and there is a danger that unless Scotland keeps up with the latest changes, we’ll be left behind in a world that is increasingly dependent on the internet for so much – communications, social interaction, and business.

As I explained recently, I am not entirely enamoured with everything that happens on the internet, and would happily remove the cult of anonymity which is so harmful to public debate, but I do recognise that the net is a marvellous invention and one which has changed the world immeasurably and will continue to do so.

That is why I have no hesitation in asking you to help support the campaign to secure a Dot Scot internet domain for the worldwide community of Scots.

Now you’ll have to forgive me if I get some details wrong, but that full stop – period to our American friends – and those letters such as com, info and org are known as generic top-level domains. Governmental organisations have their own domains in the shape of .gov, while most countries have their own top-level domains such as .uk and .ie (Ireland).

Scotland as yet does not have its own top-level domain, but an increasing number of regions do (Region – don’t you hate that word? We are a worldwide community of Scots and should be recognised as such. Hence Dot Scot). Other places which are not exactly nations are already registered. The first two to be designated were .cat for Catalonia and .asia for just about anywhere in Asia that wants to use it.

So though it might not seem very important, .scot would put us up there with pioneers in the use of a domain to signify that a community of people – not just this nation of five million –is a genuine presence on the internet.

A determined campaign has sprung up to ensure that .scot happens, and according to the campaigners, “the .scot domain will represent Scottish identity, culture, and heritage on the worldwide web and provide an opportunity for businesses to adopt a unique branding tool”. The aim is for groups or organisations who contribute to Scottish social, business, cultural and academic life – whether at home or abroad – to have a brand that plainly identifies them as Scottish in origin. With 40 million people worldwide claiming Scottish heritage or ancestry, you can see the potential.

To make things work, the campaigners have set up “DotScot Registry” as a not-for-profit company. They will be submitting a bid in the New Year to create and then operate the .scot domain as a public resource.

The company has the backing of the Scottish Government, but is definitely not the creation or creature of Holyrood. Indeed, the whole idea is to create a .Scot domain that will definitely act in the public interest rather than be a tool of political or commercial forces.

At this point I will declare an interest – one of the campaigners is a friend of mine, Harry McGrath, the director of the Scottish Canadian Agency, whose many years as a teacher in Vancouver have somehow reinforced his patriotism rather than diminished it.

Harry says this: “Dot Scot has all kinds of positive implications for the worldwide community of Scots but the one I am personally most excited about is its ability to bond Scots at home and the Scottish Diaspora. This is already manifested in the formal letters of support we are receiving which range from the Scottish Football League and the Scots Language Centre here to the Scottish Cultural Centre in Vancouver and the ‘Friends of Scotland’ organisation based in California.”

The problem for the campaign is that the process specifically asks Harry and his colleagues to show that they have public support for a domain among potential users and the internet community.

The campaigners are starting to gather public support for the bid, which will be decided by ICANN in early-to-mid 2013, and a formal declaration of support by any organisation or member of the public would help ensure that the campaign is successful.

More information is available on the Dot Scot website, which can be found at www.dotscot.net. I am sure that once you check out the website and see what Harry and his colleagues are trying to do, you will join me in backing to the Dot Scot campaign.