Colombian domain challenges .com

image captionThe .co registry is hoping to attract up to five million registrations in the next five years

A domain name owned by the Colombian government is proving popular in the increasingly crowded space of web addresses.

The .co web address was assigned to Colombia by net regulator Icann but is now being run by a private firm.

Since being launched in July, the .co domain name has attracted nearly 600,000 registrations and is being seen as a challenger to .com.

It comes ahead of a big shake-up in the way web addresses are assigned.

It has taken the Colombian government 10 years to get its domain name up and running on a commercial basis.

Originally the .co address was administered by the University of the Andes in Bogota.

The university recognised the potential of the name but the commercial roll-out never got off the ground.

"It has been a long process of creating the laws and procurement process," said Juan Diego Calle, chief executive of the .co registry.

A quarter of the revenue the registry makes from .co will go to the Colombian government.

Mr Calle is hoping the name can compete with the dominance of .com.

"We are going for a global audience and in three to five years we hope to have three to five million registrations.

"The average person can try up to 20 times to register a domain and companies are starting to come up with long and silly urls," he said.

So far, 38% of firms registering for a .co domain are in the US, with 20% in Europe, the majority of these from the UK.

For countries lucky enough to have a domain name with a meaning beyond their own borders - such as the tiny South Pacific island of Tuvalu (.tv), domain names can be a rich income source.

The .tv web address has proved a hit with the broadcast industry, while Montenegro's me has appeal to the social networking generation.

The .co landgrab could be one of the last before Icann overhauls the way net addresses are assigned.

Next year the body is due to open up the system so that companies and individuals can register any name they want.

Mr Calle does not think it will impact the success of .co.

"You need technology resources to manage a domain name. Running a domain registry costs millions," he said.

The deregulation of web addresses will show that net names can go beyond the established names, he thinks.

"It will help educate consumers that you can type .co into a browser and get a valid website," he said.

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