Universities plan to use top-level domain names to build their global brands and could give students email addresses they can keep for life, after they stumped up a combined total of more than $1 million to bid for a slice of the internet.
RMIT, Monash, Bond, La Trobe and Open Universities Australia are the only universities in the world aside from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to lodge applications for generic top-level domain names as part of a global sell-off of internet operating rights.
The universities’ applications to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) reveal security and branding as key motivations for spending the non-refundable $US85,000 required per bid, consultancy fees estimated at between $50,000 and $100,000, and annual fees of $US25,000. Competing bids that can’t be resolved will be settled by auction.
If successful, applicants like La Trobe University will be able to use .latrobe instead of latrobe.edu.au. The idea is that shorter website addresses will be easier to recall.
Although it is a still a matter of debate among technology experts, there may also come a time when a student’s email address could take the form of their name@latrobe.
Open Universities, which is owned by seven Australian universities, has applied for the more generic .course and .study
The Australian universities are in good company, with some of the world’s leading banks and telecommunication and technology companies such as IBM also bidding for domain names.
But the jury is out on whether they are gutsy or gullible, says Bruce Arnold, an expert in digital technologies business analysis at the University of Canberra.
“It’s a fad,” Arnold says. “There is a real question about whether universities will get an appropriate return from this and arguably it’s just fashion.”
Arnold says there has been aggressive marketing by intermediary companies in the absence of any solid evidence that successful applicants will become more prominent on the internet.
“It’s the second wave of the digital gold rush,” he says. “Quite a few years ago there was this notion that people would be able to make huge amounts of money by registering a name. The [domain name] registries did very nicely out of it.”
La Trobe’s application says having a generic top-level domain name will allow for easier brand recall and website usability. And because the university will control its domain spaces, users will be better protected against data breaches, hacking and phishing.
Successful bidders will be able to create hundreds or even thousands of secondary domain names. “With the ability to create domain names customised by course and audience type such as mba.latrobe and alumni.latrobe respectively, La Trobe will be able to use the . . . domain space to engage with its potential users on a more intimate level,” the application says.
An interview was declined.
RMIT’s executive director of engagement, Cratis Hippocrates, says the main benefits would be greater prominence in Google searches – although industry experts are divided on whether this will be the case – and a demonstration of the university’s strategy to be a global brand.
No other organisation appears to have bid for .courses or .study, although there are applications for .university, .school and .education, according to ARI Registry Services, which is supporting several universities’ applications.
ARI Registry Services chief executive Adrian Kinderissays it is unclear why Australian universities have been so eager to apply but “they should be patted on the back for at least having a crack”.
“I was very surprised not to see Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard, some of these more prestigious universities and colleges that are known worldwide, step forward,” Kinderis says.
One option for universities is to give students email addresses they can use forever – a boon for alumni, he says.
Open Universities’ application says as the .courses and .study domain names expand and evolve, it may offer personalised domains to students such as (name).courses.
“OUA plans to increase its partnership with other educational institutions in Australia and overseas. The use of the .courses gTLD (generic top-level domain) may ultimately be adopted to regulate the education sector from a digital perspective,” it says.
Arnold interprets this to mean that Open Universities wants to create a portal though which students can choose subjects from providers around the world.
“In blue-sky territory you end up with a one-stop shop – the ‘degree’ is ‘awarded’ by the consortium rather than an individual institution and the units in that degree are picked up from a range of institutions,” he says.
Open Universities declined an interview.
ICANN will accept formal objections until early next year. (The Australian Financial Review)