auDA CEO Rosemary Sinclair talks to Grahame Lynch on the CommsDay Live podcast about the introduction of .au direct, and auDA’s long term plans for the .au domain.
Rosemary Sinclair, she's the head of auDA, which runs the Internet domain system in Australia. They announced what was positioned as one of the biggest shakeups in the Australian domain market for nigh on 20 years, the creation of a direct .au domain, which was launched about a week ago. So, we caught up with Rosemary to find out all about it. And also to find out about some plans they have on the horizons, which I found quite fascinating. Welcome to the show, Rosemary.
Great to be here, Graham. Thank you.
Okay, so you've got the big announcement this month of the new .au direct domain, can you tell us what it's all about? And particularly, what are the benefits to the community of this new domain.
So this is some, it's really exciting, because it's [one of] the first new namespaces in the .au. domain for 20 years. So we've got com.au, net.au, org.au, this is .au direct. And the reason it's exciting, and particularly now, is it just provides a great choice for a different sort of economy. When auDA first started managing Australia's domain name system, in the early 2000s, we weren't looking at a gig economy, we weren't looking at an economy that depended on innovation and productivity. We weren't even really looking at an economy that was focused on export markets. But we now are, and this new choice of name, .au direct, provides all sorts of people the opportunity to come online to establish their own presence, their own online presence, in a domain that is globally regarded as a very trusted domain, the .au domain.
So, we're all ready because we launched last Thursday. And already we've seen thousands of small businesses take the opportunity to come online to join the online community. And we see them, they're very, very small businesses, but thousands of new Australian businesses has got to be great for the economy. The other thing we've seen is hundreds of individuals come into the space, rosemarysinclair.au. And again, that gives those individuals their own online presence. From some research we did towards the end of last year, the community told us that the thing that they really value about the Internet and online is being able to communicate with their chosen tribe, if you like, their group of colleagues and friends. Businesses, it's all about commerce, cutting costs, revenue sources, but there's a very particular focus for community members, individuals and organisations. So very early numbers we see are indicating to us that the demand that we thought was there for this new namespace is actually materialising.
Okay, that's great. Now, I understand you have a Priority Allocation access process, so that people who already have domain names don't find that someone else comes in gazumps their name. So how does that all work?
Yeah, so what we've done is we've reserved all the existing names in the domain for six months, to give the holders of those names the chance to think about whether they want to get the exact matching name in .au direct. If there's only one such name like a com.au, then it's an easy process. If there are a number of different holders of a name, say in com.au and net.au and org.au, then our process for allocating the .au direct among those holders who want the .au direct is via the create date, if that create date, if after the fourth of February 2018. If the create date is before the fourth of February 2018, and we've chosen that date because that's when the real consultation about implementing this new namespace started, then those parties have to negotiate amongst themselves who gets the .au direct name.
So there's a lot more information on our website, we've been working with our registrars for 18 months, updating their agreements, updating the rules, training them, discussing all of this developing communications, all designed to help people who currently have a name in the .au domain, who want the .au direct match, to help them work their way through the process. So far, what we've seen since last Thursday is some thousands of names actually being resolved in that Priority Allocation Process. So, we're really confident that that is working. But we're keeping a very close eye on the customer enquiries we get, you know, user error in the early stages of a process like this, we're really watching all that, like a hawk, to make sure that the users in the .au domain are able to get the right result for their circumstances. And I should just quickly add, Graham, that nobody is required to take up the .au direct name, your existing website and domain name will just work beautifully if you keep your registration details up to date.
Okay, yeah, that's an important point that. You just mentioned, you've been working with the registrars for 18 months. And I find that very impressive. This whole thing has been the result of a lengthy, extensive and exhaustive consultation process with the sector. So, can you take us through how it all began? And what you did to get to this point?
Yes, so the conversation really started in 2015. And I should just add, before I get into the details, that the way the Internet policies are developed is through multi-stakeholder processes. And a very particular thing about that is that it means all parties come to the table with equal voices. So, the consultation processes and capability is really very, very extensive. And that's what's happened here with the introduction of .au direct.
So, in 2015, a Names Policy Panel was established to have a look at whether anybody wanted the namespace. And the decision out of that consultation was yes, there was a need. So, there was some early thinking about where the demand was heading, the introduction of mobile devices, was part of the conversation there, that shorter names would be better. The emerging digital economy, with innovation and a whole range of different forms of marketing, all that was part of that discussion, which wound up with yes, there is a need for a new namespace, .au direct.
Second period of consultation was all about the Priority Allocation Process. What would happen to people who already had a name in the .au domain. And so there was extensive consultation with holders of names, and some of those holders hold them for investment purposes like assets, other people hold names to support their online presence in business, and so on. So again, all of those interests were taken into account in deciding the Priority Allocation Process. So, before February fourth 2018, the allocation would depend on negotiation. After the fourth of February, it depends on the creation date of the first name created. And then the third element of all of this was the implementation of the decision to create the namespace and how to allocate the priority process to develop priority process.
The third set of consultations were 2019. And they were really focused on the implementation of all of this. And again, everybody in the room public consultations, submission processes, really open and extensive consultation on how to go about the whole introduction.
Okay, so that’s the point where I want to ask the question, how big is the Australian domain space overall in terms of millions of registrations? And how fast is it growing?
So, we, we've got 3.46 million names at the moment. And it's growing by about 4 percent a year, on average, a bit of a spike up I'd say, during the pandemic, we actually saw hundreds of thousands of small businesses come into com.au during the pandemic as they were innovating their service and supply chain, which was really, really interesting. And since the launch of .au direct, we've seen very substantial growth, we're not expecting that kind of growth to continue, but it proved to us that there were thousands of - tens of thousands of people, businesses waiting for this new namespace. And as soon as they could, they jumped in. So, we'd expect that to settle down. And we think that the measure of growth will be in line really, with the way the economy grows. So, you know, 3-4 percent, we're hoping.
Okay terrific. So, what's on the agenda next, for auDA now you've got this out of the way?
Well, look, a range of different things. I mean, one of the most interesting things that we did during the year was an inaugural piece of research into the Digital Lives of Australians. And that was, according to some of the participants in the research, the first time that they felt the question of 'what is it that you value about the Internet' was asked, and it was really, really interesting, we'll be following that up this year. What people said to us, the community said, we really value the communications and connection aspect of the Internet. And businesses said to us, we really value the opportunity for new revenue streams, and being able to cut costs and do things more efficiently.
Out of that though, in our sample size, we found that one out of seven Australian businesses (and if you think of small businesses there's a couple of million of these in Australia) don't yet have an online presence. So, we said that there's an opportunity there. People are concerned about cyber security and privacy. So, there's some challenges there. Interestingly, the main focus on connectivity was in metropolitan areas, and in particular, for gig economy workers. So, people who were really relying on an individual connection to the Internet for their livelihood, really, those people really care about the quality communications connection. So, we'll do more of that research, you know, getting out and finding out what people really think and what they want.
Down the track, we've got about a year of settling down .au direct, you know, reviewing what's happened, thinking about how it's all working. But we're really excited by the next set of new namespaces. And those will be spaces for our international communities, reflecting the multicultural nature of Australia. So, domain names in Chinese language, Korean language, Vietnamese language. We know that these communities depend on each other in terms of their business and communications. So, we think that Internationalized Domain Names will be relevant.
And beyond that, so I'm now you know, years into the future. We're really excited about a conversation that we have just started about the possibility of an Indigenous namespace. You know, is there interest by the Indigenous community in having a namespace that is really theirs. So, we see many opportunities where an online presence, you know, can facilitate and support what people want to do. And we see that as our role thinking that through with the relevant stakeholders and seeing how best we can meet those needs. So that's where we're focused on the needs of the Australian community.
Well, you heard it here first on CommsDay Live. That's terrific stuff. Thank you so much for joining us today, Rosemary.
A pleasure Grahame.
Listen to the interview here.