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TMCNet:  The .ngo domain will bring value and opportunities for NGOs

[December 05, 2012]

The .ngo domain will bring value and opportunities for NGOs

NEW DELHI, Dec 05, 2012 (Mint - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Brian Cute is the chief executive officer of Public Interest Registry (PIR), which is now working to usher in the .ngo domain. Cute's organization, PIR, has submitted an application to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) -- to create and manage .ngo domains. Cute believes this is a critical step in ensuring the online rights and opportunities of non-profits. In India, for the Digital Empowerment Foundation Manthan Awards (Mint is a strategic partner), Cute spoke on .ngo in an interview. Edited excerpts: How did this idea of a .ngo domain emerge Icann, the organization that administers the domain name space or system, opened up applications for new addresses. Public Interest Registry, which operates .org, looked at this opportunity and said, 'What makes sense for us'. We are a not-for-profit ourselves and come from the NGO (non-governmental organization) community. So we didn't approach that opportunity from a pure commercial...you know, what new addresses can we create and compete with .com and make lots of money. It was a completely different orientation, it was about our mission.


Our mission is to serve the non-commercial community online globally, to provide them with tools and space online where they can promote their missions. So from that orientation, we started to think about what new addresses might bring value to the community. We're not just offering .ngo, we're also offering .ong, which is the Latin-based language equivalent. So we've applied for both of those. And it became immediately obvious -- 'Okay, this is a string that might make sense.' But, as I said earlier, we really needed to go out and talk to the NGOs to make sure that this was going to add value because we have .org -- it's a good address -- and there are other addresses that NGOs use, country codes like .in. And so, when we did outreach over the course of the last 12 months -- we did workshops, we talked to a lot of press groups, NGOs -- one key main point for them was trust, you know, we learnt about the problem of 'briefcase NGOs', the fraudsters who set themselves up on paper, try to take advantage of a crisis, pretend to be a valid NGO and take money from donors or the public and foundations, and then disappear. And we learnt that this has created a reputational challenge for the NGO community.

That was actually my second question. There is a lot of scepticism about NGOs in India.

Once we understood that this was a challenge, a problem, the question becomes how do you address that. So, .org by comparison is an open address. Anybody, an individual, a not-for-profit, even a commercial organization, can register in .org, and there's no requirement -- it's open. So the notion of creating a verification mechanism in .ngo, meaning that if I apply for a name, I have to provide an indication, some data, some confirmation that I am, in fact, a legitimate NGO, is part of the solution. That's what we're going to deliver. That's not easy.

How will you do that There are a number of different mechanisms. At the top, this solution has to come from the NGO community and NGO community data sources; it cannot come from Public Interest Registry, we're a third party neutral registry. We can't become an arbitrator of who is and who isn't. But if you look across the NGO community, in India and globally, there's a multitude of sources. There are NGO associations that are known to be legitimate associations who have members, there are lists, in India, there are government lists... There are other organizations who have verified NGOs for purposes...if you get favourable tax code treatment in certain countries. So, there's a multiplicity of sources of data that are out there. What we need to do is two things -- use the data that the community deems verified. Number two, after using that data to check an organization, provide a back-end mechanism, so that if an illegitimate NGO gets in, the community has a mechanism to challenge that, to raise a red flag, and so that's what we're building -- a two-piece verification system, one on the front-end using community-based data and then a back-end check.

Are there any .ngo websites right now No, this will, likely, go live sometime in late 2013 or early 2014. The application process is still happening. The evaluation of applications will take a little bit of time. There have been 1,400 applications for new addresses from around the world, 1,400 new extensions. So, think .com, .net, .org, .in; 1,400 new addresses.

Have people started approaching you for .ngo websites Yes, we're already getting demand.

How popular do you think this domain will be in India My sense is that it's gonna be very successful in India and I say that for two reasons. Number one, partnering with DEF (Digital Empowerment Foundation) in the last 12-plus months and going out into the field, there are a couple of things that we've learnt, and I've learnt: Grass-roots NGOs and the people who work in them are very sophisticated. They understand what the Internet can do for them, that this isn't a paternalistic offering that is somehow bringing them online and giving them value they don't realize. They've got sophistication, they know about the Internet, they know about social media. What they need is to be connected and provided with the tools and that's it. DEF, what they bring is the training, the education. So we've brought 700-plus grass-roots organizations online using .org and DEF provided the Wordpress training, on how to develop and manage the content on your website. And that empowers them to then manage their online presence. The social medium, while they understand the value of it, and what it can do in projecting themselves online, at the same time, your reputation can be attacked. And it's the kind of thing where if you're going to do it well, you need to dedicate a full-time resource, a person to 24x7 manage your outreach and your reputation. A lot of NGOs can't afford to dedicate a full-time hand. So this provoked one of the questions in this basket of services we can provide around the name, and providing social media tools in a closed user group environment was one of the ideas that we came up with after interacting with the NGOs. So, I think, the .ngo domain is going to be very successful because the demand is there, the sophistication is there, and it's just a matter of getting the tools into the hands of NGOs. That's how I see it.

___ (c)2012 the Mint (New Delhi) Visit the Mint (New Delhi) at www.livemint.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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