Commentary Jamaica Magazine

The Government’s Internet Strategies

Back in early December 2002, we heard that the Government of Jamaica had approved a US$592,000 contract (approximately J$28M) for the development and re-design of the Jamaica Tourist Board’s web site.

Then, near the end of that same month, it was reported in the media that the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) was planning to make certain moves in an attempt to assume ownership of Jamaica.Com, an Internet domain name that is currently owned by a Canada based company.

Finally, in early April, it was revealed that the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) had recently acquired an Internet domain name, VisitJamaica.Com, from a United States company at a cost of US$5,000 (approximately J$275,000).

This sequence of events has been of particular interest to some observers, including myself, quite possibly because it has caused us to wonder about the soundness of the Internet strategies of the Jamaican Government and some of it’s agencies.

In the past, from the birth of the Internet age in the mid-1990’s, to the global boom of the industry up to the late 1990’s, the Jamaican Government, along with numerous other governments of the English-speaking Caribbean, were seemingly unaware of the reach, power and potential that the Internet offered. Not only did the Jamaican Government fail to register domain names that it now sees as critical to the future of our Island on the World Wide Web, it failed to pass legislation and implement the infrastructure that is required for Jamaicans at home and abroad to enjoy the full power and effectiveness of the Internet.

So, in the year 2002, it appeared as though the Government and it’s agencies had awoken from their slumber and the Internet was now seen as a place to be taken seriously. Yes, many Government web sites do look as though a child with crayons and pencils created them, but does that necessarily mean we need to prove that we are ‘serious’ by awarding a ½ million US$ web site development contract for the new JTB web site?

For any government or company, even the giant itself (Microsoft), to spend a half million dollars on the development of a single web site is almost unheard of. A lot is left unanswered regarding this contract, and the government owes the taxpayers of Jamaica an explanation and breakdown of where and how exactly this half million is being spent. As a web developer myself, I can’t begin to fathom what this site will entail that is worth more than US$50,000 or at most, US$100,000.

With that contract being awarded and now out of the way, they seemingly got an idea that “… hey, maybe it would be good if the government or one of its agencies actually owned the domain name Jamaica.Com.” Owning the name is of strategic importance because it is the most logical name that the average person will type into their Internet browser if they are seeking information about the Island. But alas, the domain name is already owned by a company that has not simply parked it, a company that has chosen to use it for the perfectly legitimate purpose of promoting it’s own tours and trips to Jamaica and other Caribbean Islands.

Based on how the company currently utilizes the domain name, the Government of Jamaica stood little chance of gaining access to it if they presented the case to the world agency charged with copyright and intellectual property protection with regard to domain names (the World Intellectual Property Organization – WIPO). The Government of New Zealand and the city of Madrid in Spain both got first-hand experiences of the futility of such efforts, as both lost out in their efforts to acquire control of NewZealand.Com and Madrid.Com respectively.

Who is to be blamed with regard to the issue of Jamaica.Com? 100% of the blame lies with the Government of Jamaica. Way back in the early 1990’s when the Internet as we know it today was born, someone should have had the foresight within the government to register and hold all the domain names which would be valuable to the Island, from whatever perspective. This was not done and as a result, there are thousands of domains that would be valuable for the promotion of the Island and it’s culture but they’re parked and in the hands of all sorts of companies and individuals, most of who are not even Jamaicans. A prime example of this – why is the domain name Reggae.Net owned and parked by a company in Korea? The tardiness of the powers that be has undoubtedly helped to put other smarter and more enterprising individuals in the driver’s seat with regards to Jamaican domain names.

So logically, thoughts and plans for gaining control of Jamaica.Com were quickly abandoned and instead it was announced that the JTB had spent US$5,000 to acquire the domain VisitJamaica.Com as it’s new platform for the US$500,000 web site that is being developed.

To those of us with even a basic knowledge of the Internet, this purchase seems a bit silly for quite a few reasons:

1. The JTB currently markets Jamaica through the domain JamaicaTravel.Com. It seems that part of their logic for acquiring VisitJamaica.Com is that it will be more easily marketable and brandable than the name JamaicaTravel.Com. While I have no numbers or research to back this up, I do believe that both these names will have the same effect on the typical Internet surfer – one of indifference. It’s quite likely that a surfer will not be inclined to more easily remember one of these two over the other.

2. In no uncertain terms, the JamaicaTravel.Com domain basically ‘rules’ the search engines for Jamaican search terms. Type in just about any Jamaica related search term at Google and it’s very likely that a page from JamaicaTravel.Com will be listed in the Top 5 of those results or at worst, the Top 10. By switching domain names, the JTB risks losing some of these search engine rankings, the cheapest and most targeted advertising that you can get on the Internet today. While it may quickly regain them, there is a strong possibility that it will take a while to regain all or lose some of these rankings totally.

3. Plain and simple, US$5,000 was far too much to pay for that domain name. While the value of a domain has to be arrived at or determined by a buyer and seller agreement on the matter, in this situation it would definitely seem as though the JTB were mistaken about the supposed value of the name VisitJamaica.Com. It’s not worth the price paid because of two main considerations that domain name appraisers use when arriving at the value of a name: (a) the length of the domain name – the shorter the name, the more valuable it is. In this case, VisitJamaica is a whole 12 characters long (too long) and just one character less than JamaicaTravel (no big improvement) and (b) name/brand recognition – is the name easy to remember? In this case, as I outlined before, the brand recognition of the new domain over the current one is basically non-existent.

So what next for the government, it’s agencies and their investments and ventures on the Internet? I sit and watch and wait. For many including myself, we wait patiently for online real-time processing of J$ and foreign currency credit card transactions via Jamaican banks. We await the fulfillment of the promise of being able to pay income tax, driver’s license fees and other statutory obligations via the Web. We look forward to the Internet being seen and recognized as a whole new and real marketplace, a place with undeniable reach, a place where growth is possible, a place where we as Jamaicans can look to make our mark and control what is rightfully ours. I hope that we’re not waiting in vain.


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