A boy named .su

January 9th, 2011

Have pity for poor ICANN. This organisation has the unenviable task of being the global babysitter for country code top-level domain names (ccTLDs), the country-specific endings of web addresses. When these domain names were first doled out in the late eighties and early nineties, a ccTLD of .su was assigned to the Soviet Union. Fifteen months later, the Union collapsed, and ICANN has been attempting without success to shut down .su ever since. The .su domain is currently used by over 80,000 websites, and recently celebrated its twentieth birthday.

The official Russian ccTLD is .ru, or its cyrillic variant .рф (.rf, for Rossiyskaya Federatsiya, or Russian Federation). However, for 600 rubles (about €15), you can have your .su domain up and running in a couple of days, and the occasional threats and pleas from ICANN to do something about the domain have mainly had the effect of encouraging ordinary Russians to rally in support of it.

The death of .su has long been  predicted — in Wired magazine in 2002, by Reuters and New Scientist in 2007, and by the Associated Press in 2008. Most recently, in 2010, American broadcaster PRI’s The World programme featured this report by Jessica Golloher on the long-enduring domain:

The day-to-day uses of the domain are quite varied. There’s a certain nostalgic appeal for authoritarian communists in a website like Stalin.su (though Lenin.su seems to be controlled by evil capitalists). Secret police enthusiasts might be a bit disappointed, however, to find that K-G-B.su is actually the website of the Belarus Guitar Club. Most of the rest are pretty innocuous, like Windsurf.su. More ominously, the Putinist, nationalist Russian mass youth group Nashi uses the .su domain ending on their website, which can hardly be reassuring to other ex-Soviet states.

The Kremlin itself owns Kremlin.su, though the domain forwards to the more politically-appropriate Kremlin.ru site. But it was not always thus. The AP report on .su from 2008 linked above has this accompanying image, showing a photo of a website selling Soviet-related domains to the highest bidder:

Stalin.su

Kremlin.su is prominently listed as an available domain. So, did the Russian government shell out to buy Kremlin.su from a Soviet-sympathizing cybersquatter?

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