Okay, this is probably going to bore you to death, but it is too important a subject for Africa (and the world, for that matter) to ignore.
The body that governs how the Internet works, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), voted a few days ago to allow the creation of new website domain suffixes, and in other languages besides English.
“Domain suffix”, or better still “Uniform Resource Locator (URL)” is the name techies use to bamboozle us ordinary folks, otherwise they mean Internet address.
Today, we have 22 domain endings (or what the techies, again, call generic top-level domain names, or gTLDs — e.g. .com for companies, .edu for educational institutions, .gov for government institutions, .org for non-profit organisations, and so forth).
There are also about 250 country-level domain names such as .ke for Kenya, .tz for Tanzania, .ug for Uganda, and .rw for Rwanda.
From January, Icann will begin taking applications for new Internet addresses, and we shall have thousands of domain names.
In the near future, they could be in the millions. We can have domain suffixes like .Nairobi, .Kilimanjaro, or .EquityBank, the list will be very long. So the question is, what does this have to do with the ugali on our dinner tables?
To begin with, one of the big controversies ahead of the Icann announcement has been over who will manage what is likely to be one of the hottest domain names of the future — .Africa (dotAfrica).
The contest is between two Mauritius-based non-profit organisations, African Top Level Domains (AfTLD), and Dot Connect Africa (DCA).
As of now, the understanding is that the African Union will endorse one of these organisations to manage the dotAfrica domain, and that, hopefully, Icann will accept its bid.
There is no guarantee that what the AU says will prevail, or that once it has given its nod, the organisation it has picked will afford to pay the $185,000 (Sh17 million) that it will cost to apply for the suffixes.
Then, even if that were done, other companies from anywhere in the world that want dotAfrica can take legal action to challenge Icann’s allocation.
And that is where our first nightmare comes in. It is likely that Africa could face the humiliation of having a non-African organisation owning the dotAfrica domain suffix.
At the business level, for companies with Africa operations like Shell, it will serve them well to have Shell.africa. It will also make sense for the African Development Bank (AfDB) to be AfDB.africa, instead of AfDB.org.
Things will be more complex for firms like Nation Media Group (NMG). The website for its flagship Kenya publications (The Nation) is .nation.co.ke.
However, NMG is also the leading East African media house and publishes The EastAfrican whose Internet address is .theeastafrican.co.ke.
The EastAfrican, would be served by a domain suffix that indicates it is regional, so theastafrican.eastafrica.
However, NMG also has a mission to be the “Media of Africa for Africa”, and its main vehicle for that is its pan-Africa news website, africareview.com. For AfricaReview, a change to africareview.africa next year would be the smart thing.
All those look like the right thing to do, until someone begins asking if NMG is a Kenyan, East African, African media company, or just a media company. It will be fun working out that problem.
Companies will rush to use their names as domain suffixes to build brand loyalty. So, you can expect that we shall have .Coke or .CocaCola.
Now here is where the ugali issues come in. One of the more popular Kenyan bloggers is coldtusker. Coldtusker is also a very interesting chap to follow on the mini-blog site, Twitter.
East African Breweries’ Tusker is the most popular beer in Kenya, and one of the most known African beers globally.
All of a sudden, coldtusker has become a valuable name, because should coldtusker register it as a domain, EABL will lose the catchiest suffix it could use to rally the community of Tusker drinkers.
Hypothetically, I can see a future in which EABL fights for the name, or does the right thing — offers coldtusker a deal he can’t refuse.
Coldtusker will not be the only one with a name that someone with deep pockets desperately wants.