Saturday, April 19, 2008

Back in the USSR: Soviet Internet domain name resists death

You may not realize it, but the Soviet Union lasted long enough into the computer age to be assigned its own two-letter internet domain - ".su" back in 1990. Now, 17 years after the demise of the Soviet Union, the .su domain is soldiering on. While most websites registered in the United States use domains ending in terms like ".com" or ".org", two-letter country code domains are popular in many other parts of the world.

ICANN, the organization responsible for regulating the use of internet addresses has, several times, tried to delete ".su", saying its outlived its usefulness. Other domains, like Czechoslovakia's ".cs" were phased out after their country ceased to exist. But a mix of Russian entrepreneurs, bloggers and Soviet Union nostalgists have kept the domain alive, by fighting steps to consolidate it with Russia's ".ru" domain and by creating new ".su" sites. Some use .su" as a way to register famous brand names like "", others create ".su" sites for nostalgia or camp value. And then there is the Kremlin-backed youth organization Nashi ("Ours" in Russian), whose official site is "". While Nashi does not promote a return to communism, they do tend to use Soviet images and icons as a way of connecting with Russia's powerful past - for example leaders within the organization are sometimes referred to as "commisars", and the image of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin has been used freely in Nashi's promotional material.

It helps to explain why the domain persists. According to ICANN the reason is not technical, but rather politics. Russia does not seem to want to let ".su" go.

A recent drop in the registration fee charged by RU-Center, the Russian-organization that controls the ".su" domain won't do anything to help. In the past few months, the domain has nearly quadrupled in size, with more than 45,000 websites now registered to ".su".

There is some talk about ".su" becoming an internet center for Russian-speaking people around the world. Another interesting development will come later this year with the introduction of ".рф" (cyrillic for "RF", standing for "Russian Federation"), the first cyrillic-text internet domain.
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