Co-op businesses get web presence
This article by Andrew Bibby was first written, in a slightly different form, for a commercial client in 2002
Co-operative businesses are leaving the dot.com world behind. As from last Wednesday [Jan 2002], co-ops have the option of using a new suffix to their web addresses, with the introduction of the so-called dot.coop Internet domain name.
Supporters of the .coop concept hope that it will enable co-operative businesses to develop an online global identify as member-owned organisations. All types of co-op are eligible, and early adopters in Britain include both a traditional retail society, the Oxford, Swindon and Gloucester, and a small Sussex-based graphic design workers co-op, Wave. The Co-op Group retail chain, Co-op Bank and Co-op Union are also registering .coop domains.
Much of the work to create .coop, made possible by a decision of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to authorise a number of new top-level domains, has been undertaken by the internet service provider Poptel, itself a workers co-op. Poptel has previously worked with trade unions, charities, and the Labour Party to develop email and website facilities. The .coop project represents make-or-break time for the firm.
"Weve bet the business," says Poptels corporate affairs director Malcolm Corbett, estimating Poptels development costs as about £2.5m. Poptel is in partnership with the US National Cooperative Business Association, which itself has invested more than $2m, and the Geneva-based International Cooperative Alliance.
To succeed, .coop will need international take-up. Malcolm Corbett takes heart from the fact that there are an estimated 750,000 co-ops worldwide, including agricultural co-ops, credit unions and housing co-ops. One early sign of encouragement is the participation of Amul, a major dairy co-op in Gujarat, India, jointly owned by over two million small milk producers. Amul has embraced new technology in its work, and argues that .coop will help it extend its sales to an international market. Major US and Japanese co-ops have also signed up to the idea.
There are also some less obvious .coop registrations coming through. "We have 4,500 registrations at the moment, including a yak-herders co-operative from Mongolia," Malcolm Corbett says.
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