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the internet – think global act local – a brief Nominet history of uk domains

This is an extract from Nominet CEO Lesley Cowley’s speech at last week’s Nominet 25th Birthday party. She very graciously sent be a copy at my request because it contained some really interesting snippets worth sharing – so here goes:

25 years ago, the first .uk domain names were registered by a few individual internet pioneers. There are some interesting facts about the early days of the UK Internet:

  • the first domains were not in the format we currently recognise – they were in reverse order with the uk on the left, not the right.
  • Also, for a brief spell, some of the first domains were registered directly at the second level – such as, &
  • and, for another brief period, registrations could be made under .gb as well as .uk, before .gb was closed to new registrations. Threads about whether .uk should actually have been .gb continue to this day!

As things became consolidated uniformity crept in and the .uk domains as we now know them came into being.

As to what the first domain was that was registered, this is still unclear – it was registered years before Nominet came into existence. As far as we know, the people involved in those initial registrations would have actually registered a block of domains, rather than a single one.

So back in the beginning the .uk domain was set up – as part of what became briefly known as the Name Registration System (NRS) – by a collection of Internet pioneers; volunteers from a collection of ISPs who manually vetted every registration.

They formed what was later called the Naming Committee to handle all the applications for domain names through the late 1980s and early 1990s. The number of domains grew steadily. The Naming Committee decided via a mailing list and occasional meetings which companies and individuals had the right to register their own .uk presence.

By 1996, with the growing use of the web, demand for .uk domain names was rising at an unprecedented rate. With 26,000 domain names on the register in 1996, and 1,000 new registrations each month, the time had come for change. The Naming Committee recognised that there was a need for a new structure to handle things going forwards and the industry got together to discuss what shape this new organisation should take.

In August 1996, it emerged in the form of Nominet, based in a converted cow shed in Abingdon. Credit has to go to the original members of the Council of Management: Dr Willie Black, the founder of Nominet, John Carey, Rob Blokzijl, Keith Mitchell, Alex Bligh, Ivan Pope, Richard Almeida & Nigel Titley all of whom worked hard to lay the foundations for the success the company has enjoyed over the past fourteen years.

Since the founding of Nominet in 1996, there has been some amazing growth in the .uk domain name space. By March 2000, less than four years after Nominet started, there were 2 million domain names on the register. Registrations hit an all-time peak of 250,000 in that March, when the dot com boom was at its zenith. Today, there are nearly 9m domains in the register with 2010 likely to be the first year in which there have been 2 million new .uk registrations.

The usage of domains defines their success. Over the last 25 years .uk has become a household name to the extent that the last Nominet domain name industry report noted that 80% of internet users would choose to visit a .uk site over a .com site when presented with search result choices.

The trend shows that consumers are increasingly reliant on .uk to provide a trusted environment, offering relevant and local information.

The internet – think global act local – I added this last bit in. Anyway – interesting stuff.

Trefor Davies

By Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of, writer, poet,

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