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Ten tiny places that have their own domain names

Claiming to be a country is an easy task. But to make others accept your claim is a lot harder. Aspiring states need favours…

Heard and McDonald Islands: no one lives there but they still have a domain name. NASA

Claiming to be a country is an easy task. But to make others accept your claim is a lot harder. Aspiring states need favours from great powers, or sometimes even celebrities, to establish their legitimacy. In the digital age, this starts with wanting a top-level domain name, such as the “.in” suffix for India.

The Scottish National Party, which is rooting for Scotland’s separation from the UK in a referendum to be held this year, launched a campaign in 2008 to get Scotland its own top-level domain name. After five years, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a consortium that controls these suffixes, agreed to setup the “.scot” suffix.

As Nina Caspersen, who studies the politics of unrecognised states at the University of York, wrote on The Conversation this week, states such as Somaliland and Transnistria start by setting up websites where they claim to be “independent and democratic”. However, with websites ending in “.com” or “.org”, respectively, their claims look weak.

These countries would have had better luck had they been dependent regions to start with, because ICANN assigns domain names to dependent regions if they apply. That is why, although there are the 206 sovereign states (of which 11 are not recognised by the United Nations), there are 255 country-code domain names.

This can go too far. For example, Heard and McDonald Islands, a dependency of Australia in the Indian Ocean, has its own top-level domain name, “.hm”, even though its population is zero, and its official website uses Antarctica’s top-level domain name, “.aq”. It is also not alone.

Here is a list of the ten least populated regions with their own top-level domain name:

And because you’ll want to know exactly where they are, here’s a map:

Related: The politics of getting online in countries that don’t exist

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2 Comments sorted by

  1. Tom

    Science communicator at University of Sydney School of Physics

    I hope the moon will get it's own top level domain name soon!

  2. David Sisson


    Way back during the turn of the century 'Tech Boom' I noticed that Tuvalu was making a killing by selling it's "dot tv" domain to producers of television shows. It occurred to me that Heard Island was recognised as a separate territory to the rest of Australia and I had dreams of registering a "dot hi" domain and selling the friendly and upbeat sounding domain myself.

    I made a few initial enquiries, but never got around to following it through. But now I see that someone with more persistence (and possibly outrageous bravado?) than me had a similar idea and has registered "dot hm". I wonder if they're making much money from it?