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What Cyber-Price for a National Identity?

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Author: J Square Humboldt

This is a case of 'let the seller beware' ...

The tiny Polynesian island nation of Niue is beginning to think it's been had.

Frankly, it's clear they didn't do their homework before they did their deal.

Ironically, it seems the buyer hadn't really done his, either.

Anyone who has been inundated by advertisements for 'global domains' can easily understand that it's a burgeoning business. The specter of purchasing a domain at a much better price than the more common 'dot com' or 'dot net' or 'dot org' is most attractive to most aspiring entrepeneurs on limited budgets. This niche's market leader is most likely Global Domains International (GDI), which has no doubt put Western Samoa on the mental map of many a cybernaut. The key element in that deal is that the Western Samoan government granted the rights to GDI in return for a royalty for every domain sold.

Niue's name is derived from the local language's phrase for, "Look, a coconut!" It seems they should have used theirs more thoroughly before signing a domain deal with Bill Semich in 1998.

An American businessman whose former station was editor for a computer magazine, Semich recognized the potential value in the marketability of unique domains. Apparently finding the 'nu' extension an attractive letter combination, he signed a contract with the Niue government that gave him the exclusive rights to it.

It wasn't a one-way deal. Semich guaranteed free wireless access for all 2000 of Niue's citizens and he delivered, completing the installation of an island-wide network of translator towers in 2003. The country's leaders surely felt they had provided their citizenry with a service for the new century which would favorably ensconce their place in island history.

Semich, meanwhile, intended to hawk his bargain domains to Americans. He had no idea that his ideal customers were in Sweden, where 'nu' is the local word for 'now.'

Obviously,'now' is a hot marketing action term in any language, so Semich was pleasantly surprised to find the Swedes flocking to his cyber-property. As a translated example of why this works for them, '' (which would be '') is a very compelling sales slogan which becomes an ideal URL for a Swedish driving school. To date, Semich has had 110,000 sales of 'dot nu' domains at $30 a year, which has considerably swollen the coffers of his '.NU Domain Ltd' to the extent that its website's home page default language is now -- or nu --- in Swedish.

In fact, Semich has cleverly taken advantage of this windfall to become the first domain provider to incorporate a complete Unicode character set into its scripts, allowing users whose alphabets have unique characters --- in Swedish, that would be the letters ',' '' and '' --- to remain true to their language instead of settling for Anglicized versions, which often destroy their original meaning. His company has already announced the rollout of this service in Sweden. Given that Unicode enables linguistic propriety to Japanese, Cyrillic, Spanish, French, German, Arabic and any other script with unique characters, Semich has truly become a pioneer in his craft.

All this commercial success has wrought concerns in Niue. Not only is the disparity in financial benefit an issue, but the island's strongly Christian residents are upset that 'dot nu' has become a popular extension for pornographic sites. Semich disavows any responsibility for this segment of his clientele, but the fact remains that they are there.

The issue became such a political hot potato that 'neo-colonialism' was a trendy charge in Niue's recent elections. Semich seems shrewd enough to realize that he's got the high ground in any bargaining that must be done to assuage his Pacific partners, so a reasonable solution will surely be attained.

This scenario underscores the all-encompassing scope of cyberspatial commerce and the depth of considerations that both buyer and seller must assess before entering into far-reaching agreements. Not even the world's tiniest nation --- and that's remote little blip-in-the-Pacific Niue --- is immune from the effects.

The moral of the story, then, is to count your cyber-coconuts before they're cracked open. They may be worth more than you think.

About the author

J Square Humboldt writes for the Longer Life Group, which provides information designed to improve the quality of living. His page is at and his observations are published three times per week.

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