Why You Won't Find Tuvalu on a Map of the World's Internet Domains

Future Tense
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Nov. 6 2013 2:37 PM

Why You Won't Find Tuvalu on a Map of the World's Internet Domains

Geography of Top-Level Domains
Tuvalu (.tv) and Micronesia (.fm) may have a lot of websites registered to their country-coded domains, but they mostly have little to do with the actual countries.

Illustration by Mark Graham and Stefano De Sabbata / Oxford Internet Institute (used with permission)

On traditional maps of the world, Russia, Canada, China, and India loom large. On this map, though, the size of each country corresponds to the estimated number of websites registered there. The United States, unsurprisingly, is home to the largest number of registered Internet domains. Perhaps less predictably, Germany ranks a solid second, ahead of the United Kingdom. China is fourth despite the world's largest online population, with only one registered domain per 40 Internet users, indicating that far fewer Chinese people create websites than visit them. The United States, in contrast, has about one domain registration for every three Internet users.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

One of the project's findings is that while Asians, South Americans, and Africans may represent a fast-growing proportion of Internet users, the vast majority of websites continue to be produced in the United States and Europe. For instance, they note that Italy and Vietnam have about the same number of Internet users, but Italy is home to seven times as many websites.

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The estimates were painstakingly compiled by Mark Graham and Stefano De Sabbata, researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute, based in part on data from University of Kentucky professor Mark Zook, who specializes in the geography of the Internet. To arrive at a full picture of how many websites are registered in each country, the researchers combined WHOIS registration data for generic top-level domains (like .com) with data on the number of registrations for each country-code top-level domains (like .us for the United States, .de for Germany, and .cn for China). They explained their methodology in a blog post Wednesday morning.

One interesting sidenote: To guard against miscounting, the researchers excluded top-level domains like .cc, .fm, and .io that actually belong to specific countries but are widely used by websites in the U.S. and elsewhere as alternatives to the traditional .com. I almost wish they had left those in: It would have been fascinating to see a large blip on the map between Australia and Hawaii and wonder, "What country is that?", before realizing that Tuvalu's domain is .tv, making it highly attractive to media-related companies across the English-speaking world. Here's the full list of country-code domains that the researchers excluded for similar reasons:

  • .tv (Tuvalu): used by the media industry
  • .fm (Federated States of Micronesia): used by the media industry
  • .am (Armenia): used by the media industry
  • .mu (Mauritius): used by music websites
  • .ac (Ascension Island): used by education-related websites
  • .re (Réunion): used by real-estate agents
  • .ws (Samoa): used as an abbreviation for “web site”
  • .me (Montenegro): used for personal websites
  • .cc (Cocos Islands): used as an alternative to .com (administered by VeriSign)
  • .cm (Cameroon): used as an alternative to .com (as a way of exploiting typing errors)
  • .nu (Niue): means “now” in Danish, Dutch, and Swedish
  • .as (American Samoa): the suffixes “AS” and “A/S” are used in some countries (e.g. Norway, Denmark, and the Czech Republic) for joint stock companies
  • .io (British Indian Ocean Territory): used by start-up companies
  • .st (São Tomé and Príncipe): is used around the world in several ways
  • .tk (Tokelau): the .tk domain can (unusually) be registered for no monetary cost. This has meant that there are over 17 million domains registered to the country (which is more than the total registered in the UK).

The researchers also discounted non-local registrations on two other countries' domains:

  • .co (Colombia): used as an alternative to .com (as a way of exploiting typing errors)
  • .md (Moldova): used by medical doctors

It's possible these types of workarounds would never have been necessary had ICANN embarked earlier on its current plan to greatly expand the range of available generic top-level domains. On the other hand, the old arrangement has been a boon to countries like Tuvalu, whose government apparently relies heavily on royalties from the .tv domain.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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