What is the development impact of .Africa and other changes in the online world?

Recently, ICANN, the organization that controls the Internet naming system, made it possible for groups to apply for new gTLDs (names to the right of the dot, like .com, .org and .edu). Nearly 2000 applications were submitted, from business ideas (like .shop and .app) to causes (.green) to the only slightly bizarre .sucks. Still, after the window closed, there were only 17 applications from the African continent, including ..

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At the recent Technology Salon “Will the new .Africa domain name have development impact?“, Andrew Mack lead a talk about the possible impacts these changes to the space might have on Africa and African economic and tech development.

What could a new .Africa extension contribute, and how might it benefit the continent? Who should run the extension – the private sector, local governments or NGOs – and why? What is the role of international organizations like the African Union and others?

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And after a very lively 90 minutes of discussion, what did these internet prognosticators think about new domains and development?

  1. Governments should have a limited role. By the end, nearly all participants agreed that the private sector – not governments or users – should take a leading role in management of the new spaces, given the political and technical complexities.
  2. The impact on the traditional aid community would likely be small. New domains might provide a good gathering point for communities in areas like health and could offer new visibility to some initiatives, but wouldn’t likely be game changers.
  3. That said, new African online “real estate” could create real opportunities to promote African business and economic growth. The question was if Africa’s entrepreneurs were ready to take advantage of the cyber land rush, and if the impact would really be felt outside the African tech community.
  4. Finally, there was a real missed opportunity around online community-building, as a .Zulu or .Hausa could offer significant community benefits – from cultural and linguistic preservation to community-oriented e-commerce. Still some participants questioned demand – would xyz.zulu be different or more sought after than xyz.zulu.com?

Of course it’s too soon to tell, but history shows us that the unexpected often happens as the internet changes (a fact that was put into focus as we examined Wayan.com, a case of unexpected resale value as Balinese came online). What is certain is that the next phase of Africa’s development will be deeply connected to the Internet, especially the mobile web, and that any future expansion of the web should have more focus on Africa and more focus from Africans interested in their own development.

Emma Etheridge supports AM Global Consulting with a strong field experience in Africa and Latin America


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