Joan McAlpine: Dotting the i's to secure Scotland its own domain

With two competing organisations working to create .scot it's in our own interests to support the non-profit model

THE growth of broadband leads many of us to expect to access the internet anywhere, any time and quickly. We take instant information for granted. And as more of us live online, the pace of life accelerates.

But not everything connected to the internet is pursued at the speed of light. The organisations charged with developing and regulating the web seem to move very slowly indeed - an inevitable result, presumably, of trying to secure agreement on a global scale - after all there are now 1.6 billion internet users around the world.

It is now six years since the launch of DOTSCOT, the campaign for a distinctive Scottish "Top Level Domain", or TLD. Scotland is one of a number of countries and interest groups who want the number of TLDs expanded from the current 22. Others include .gay, .eco and .sport covering interest groups and .basque, .London and .welsh for national and city bids.

DOTSCOT has made considerable progress since its launch in 2005, in attracting support across the political spectrum - initially through Holyrood's cross-party petitions committee. The Scottish Government came on board in 2009 and research shows a majority of organisations, both commercial, cultural and public, believe .scot would help reinforce brand Scotland around the world.

The challenge for campaigners was to keep up momentum while the mechanism for change was put in place by the internet regulators - at a pace more suited to the steam age. Last week the download was finally completed in Singapore the regulatory body Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), finally approved the biggest ever change in domain names. The process meant years of discussion with thousands of interested parties from governments, businesses and the wider web community - proposals were revised seven times before agreement was reached.

New TLDs will change the way we find information on the Internet and how businesses approach their online presence. Addresses will end with almost any word in any language: "Offering organisations around the world the opportunity to market their brand, products, community or cause in new and innovative ways," say ICANN. Applications will be accepted between January and April next year and the new names should be up and running by 2013.

It is important that everyone in Scotland gets behind this officially approved bid which can be found at www.dotscot.net. This is the group that has government and cross-party backing, because it is run as a not for profit organisation.Domain names must be purchased and the Dot Scot Registry, whose board of directors are unpaid, will ensure the price remains as low as possible The .scot name must be affordable for everyone, from a crofters association in the Hebrides, a charity in a Glasgow housing scheme or one of our leading companies. The Dot Scot Registry will direct any surplus from sales into a charitable trust.

The not for profit approach is the one most likely to be approved by ICANN.

However although the bid is well placed to succeed, it needs as many individuals and organisations as possible to got to dotscot.net or dotscot.org and register their support. It is particularly important to visit the correct site as another bid is being pursued by a commercial organisation that hopes to make money from selling the new TLD.

This commercial bid by scotnom also has a website which uses the .com sign and comes top of the Google search listing for dotscot. However .scot TLD should be a community-based public resource rather than a private asset.

It is important that there is no confusion of the two organisations - remember dotscot.net and dotscot.org is the place to sign up if you want the bid to benefit the wider community.

Nobody will be forced to change their domain name. Having a .scot will simply be a matter of consumer choice. If you prefer to buy the .org or .uk etc then that is a matter for the individual or organisation.

However the .scot name offers a marvellous opportunity to engage with the wider Scottish diaspora. National identity is redefining itself all the time - it is not constrained by geography, birth or even nationality. A research paper for the Scottish government identified four distinct strands of diaspora: "lived" which would include people who had made their home in Scotland and then moved elsewhere, "ancestral" such as those Americans and Canadians with Scottish descent, "affinity" might be those whose interest in the country began with a holiday, study or business trip, or they may have never visited but are keen on some aspect of our country such as Celtic music or the work of Burns.

The last category is the "new" diaspora which would include Scots who are planning to leave. This group is not insignificant - an estimated 365,000 people emigrated from Scotland between 2001 and 2006.

There has been a growing understanding in recent years that engagement with the diaspora is vital in a globalised world where people and business are highly mobile. Edinburgh University has established its own Centre for Diaspora Studies for this very reason. Research conducted at the centre should help us identify the "global family of Scots" and evaluate the most productive ways in which we can connect.

There is obviously an economic impact. There is also what is called the "brain gain" as our enhanced cultural and economic presence attracts talented, skilled people to live and work here

For centuries our high levels of outward migration were seen as a tragedy. When The Proclaimers wrote Letter from America, they mourned all those Scottish exiles, headed across the world and perhaps lost for ever. Now, thanks to the internet they can come home.

• Joan McAlpine is an SNP MSP for the south of Scotland

Back to the top of the page