.city – Local TLDs as an Opportunity for City Portals

One of the most frequently asked question when it comes to the discussion about a city top-level domain .city (such as .london, .berlin or .nyc) is what .city means to the already established official city portal (such as London.gov.uk, Berlin.de, NYC.gov or in general City.com). This article by Dirk Krischenowski contributes to the most important topics in this discussion.


The infrastructure of their own top-level domain .city can provide significant opportunities for a large city, its administration and the official city portal City.com. A top-level domain .city must thus be seen as a useful complement and extension to that provided by the city portal. Particularly for city portals, cooperation with the .city concerned will result in increased attractiveness to citizens and companies and sustainable competitive advantages.

The difference between City.com and .city

The difference between a city portal City.com and a top-level domain .city is:

City.com is a single domain within its name space. It is the identity for the city and its institutions. In most countries and cities companies, organisations and city residents can hardly influence or contribute to this address, often for legal and regulatory reasons.

.city represents an independent name space. The .city domains represent an identity for every single resident of a city, for their companies and organisations. The .city domains reach the entire community, out to the most remote members, opening up a whole range of opportunities for every individual to participate, to make their own contribution and to join in social networking.

Domains play an important role in the online and offline communication of both a city community’s identity and of its member’s identities. The choices at the top-level available to individuals, companies and regional communities is today however limited to country codes (such as .de or .fr) and a very few generic endings (such as .com or .info). Individuals and companies in cities can’t really identify with Internet addressing and look for ways to circumvent it. For instance, the term hamburg is already used in about 50,000 domains such as www.harbour-hamburg.de demonstrably showing that they belong to the Hamburg community. The synonym nyc can be found in almost 300,000 domains.

The competitive environment for city portals

City portals like London.gov.uk, Berlin.de, NYC.gov as comprehensive sources of information for each city have to increasingly compete with the Internet presence of a variety of information providers. This is primarily about visits and the pages called up by the Internet users, called reach. Particularly for city portals which involve cooperation between public institutions and private operators, reach can mean significant advertising revenues, can lead to profitable transactions and commission and can thus lower the burden on the public purse. In almost all financially rewarding fields of operation there are competitors to city portals who may record ten times more visitors or who may be more specialised and generate many times the turnover.

Generally the E-commerce areas hotel and event bookings, tourism, yellow pages and e-mail services are today the most interesting sources of revenue for both, public and privately operated city portals.

In practice, a city portal operated in a Public-Private-Partnership has significant potential for conflicts. It’s not only about competition with other city owned marketing organisations, but with the local Internet economy in general, since only the city itself is able to leverage the advantage of the City.com domain name. This can lead to difficult legal implications on the economic activities of a city as the current conflict between Berlin.de and .berlin shows. In Berlin the PPP operated city portal Berlin.de not only tries to exclude other city marketing organisations form generating revenues, the PPP also leads to an inhibition of the .berlin initiative which is planning to offer more choice and competition in the Berlin online market.

Many of the city portals’ areas of activities have one thing in common; Internet users find them by using search engines or memorable, part generic domains. Search engines and domains work hand in hand; a result of a search is more believable, the more descriptive and simple the domain is. Business.com, Weather.com, and Sport.de all clearly demonstrate the decisive role that exactly the right domain has for a portals’ success.

In the overall field of competition, the city portals, both if operated by the city or by private sector, must continue to ask the same questions: How do I get more reach and more users? and How do I win the users favour in search engines and against the competition?. And all of this where the city portals aim to provide a broad spectrum while competing both with the giants in the sector (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and Deutsche Telekom) and with myriad web sites with a more or less good reach and good brands for individual interests.

Domains for modern public services and the reach of the city portals

Especially the government of a city itself as well as its institutions, public authorities and administration can benefit from a top-level domain that is based on the city’s name. For external communication, presentation and ease of location in the Internet, both online and offline, in the sense of modern E-government, there is obvious benefit from the use of administration domains such as www.senate.berlin, www.mayor.london or www.traffic.nyc.

  • .city domains are intuitive and are as easy to remember for individuals as they are for business and administration
  • .city domains permit easy communication with and ease of location of local authority web sites by local residents and are thus a basis for modern public services
  • Ease of communication leads to cost savings as local residents make fewer phone calls to the administration, instead intuitively locating forms and opening times themselves, online
  • Innovative E-government and modern Internet infrastructure in the city can be a showpiece when comparing national and international city portals.

It is clear that the city portals of numerous .city domains, such as www.passport.city, will either be used as additional entry pages for the City.com concerned or will at least link to the appropriate content on City.com. A whole sequence of commercial benefits arises from this.

  • With .city domains, there is an opportunity to build up a structure that is intuitively obvious for local residents and even to set up separate portals under their own domains.
  • Local residents will find it quicker and easier to find intuitive .city domains such as www.lostproperty.city rather than a complex search on City.com. This will improve the attractiveness and the image of a city portal. In this positive spiral, the number of visitors will increase, raising the attractiveness for advertisers.
  • With a large number and thus with a network of .city domains, the number and quality of search engine placings will improve, directly leading to more.

The sub-domains proclaimed more than a decade ago, but which are hardly used by city portals such as www.taxes.berlin.de have, apart form a few exceptions (e.g. for .co.uk), not been accepted in the marketplace and in advertising. Internet users expect the address pattern to be www.domain.ending (e.g. www.business.city) and this habit is not expected to change.

TLDs for certain governments have become popular during the last decade. Not only the United States use its own governmental .gov, also the European Union (.eu) and the Catalans (.cat) got their own name spaces. Within these TLDs official websites are named www.whitehouse.gov, www.europa.eu or www.parlament.cat and they have become very popular among citizens and businesses.

Generic domains for more reach for the city portals

Generic domains belong to the most valued real estate in the Internet as they can be intuitively used (type-in), are ideal for use in advertising and enable excellent placings in search engine rankings. Generic domains can thus lead to a significant increase in traffic and thus to increased turnover for the web site concerned.

Domains such as schopping.com, hotel.de or travel.info and numerous other examples impressively demonstrate this. Each of these domains is today valued at a 6 to 9 digit sum.

The content provided by the city portals for relevant search term like business is in harsh and increasing competition with numerous other web sites and portals. It is not sufficient to just be in first place when entering a keyword into a search engine, the other places are also of commercial interest for city portals and could, for instance, be filled by www.business.city instead of www.city.com/business or www.business.city.com. Generic domains in the commercial areas of the city portals would thus provide the city portals in the competitive situation described with a decisive and sustained advantage.

The Chances for City.com by .city

Large companies and high reach portals often commit a cardinal mistake when advertising one of their numerous products or services: they use the company’s URL or the URL of the portal both in the online and in the offline campaigns. The fatal consequences this has and how city portals can learn from this is illustrated with the example of Deutsche Bahn.

Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) advertises their online booking system with large posters and invites the reader to vist www.bahn.de for more information. The problem is that www.bahn.de is packed with so many other features that the user can’t find the online booking function that they are actually looking for. Practical experience shows that home pages generally have a high cancellation rate and do not work as a landing page if a campaign based on communication is concerned.

That is exactly what happens if the city portal City.com advertises an electronic tax form with www.city.com. Only a fraction of those looking for the tax form actually land there. The majority is either distracted by advertising or can’t find it in the navigation jungle or when using the site’s internal search engine. The domain www.tax.city would bet he ideal domain to advertise.

The important question to answer for the operator of a city portal is whether he wants to direct the user through intuitive local URLs like www.tax.city directly to the E-government offers without any crabwise through City.com. Various official studies show that the highest barrier for private and business users to find to E-government offers is the accessibility by intuitive measures (URLs, search engine, etc.).

The Munich city portal Muenchen.de has taken it so far that for almost any Google search in the style of Search term Muenchen, a suitable page will result. In the language of search engine optimisation, the talk is of a Google sponge or Google magnet.

Using the synergy potentials between City.com and .city

The top-level domain .city can contribute to the city portal City.com maintaining its leading position and being strengthened by .city not only in terms of attractiveness to and traffic by Internet users. A .city must thus be seen as a useful complement and extension to that provided by City.com and not as a competitor. With .city domains, infrastructure is created which can be used by the city portal to extend and to define their existing communication and E-government strategy. City.com will continue to be the URL (address) of the city portal and the city that is outwardly communicated, as well as being the preferred entry point to the city portal.

With .city there is a good opportunity to broaden the base of the city portal and to further extend its claim to leadership, sustainably, in the competitive environment. In the local online market, City.com with .city domains would also reinforce its position and be able to extend it. The win-win situation created by a cooperation between city portals and the respective .city is also an opportunity to position themselves, in the innovative trend of regional and local top-level domains. Cooperation can also be seen as an excellent opportunity to show responsibility for the local area, to gain commercial respect, resulting in an improved image and an increase in competence due to participation in an innovative project.


Dirk Krischenowski is founder and general manager of the initiative for the top-level domain .berlin (www.dotberlin.de). As driver of the idea of city top-level domains (cityTLDs) he’s author of numerous articles about the topic, speaker at national and international conferences (e.g. ICANN, IGF) and consults regional top-level domain initiative in different cities and regions.

Source DomainNews

October 2007

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