Like so many others working on the web I have often had a bit of a domain name habit. You know the situation. You have a hair-brained idea for a website/app, you sketch some notes and before long you buy a domain. The blessing and the curse of cheap domain names! But what determines the domain names you buy? Price? Availability? Character length? Memorability? Have you ever given much consideration to where your domain comes from? What country owns and manages your TLD (abbreviation: Top-Level Domain)? How ethical is your domain?

This issue struck me recently when considering buying a .tl domain. I had no idea what country this was from (East Timor, it turns out) or what kind of country it was. How ethical is this country? How transparent is it? What record does it have for corruption or press freedom? Fortunately it turns out there are some great tools to help us answer these questions. Transparency International is a fantastic organisation that collates, surveys and publishes information on accountability and transparency across the world.

Using the invaluable data available on the Transparency International website I’ve put together a small, simple tool at http://cole007.net/ethical/ to help us learn about the ethics of different country-based TLDs (where data is available). For example, the widely used link-sharing service, bitly uses a Libyan TLD which is perceived to have very high levels of corruption in its public sector, whilst the excellent Unfinished Business podcast has a Belize TLD which has a poor Global Competitiveness Index.

So please feel free to give the tool a play. I’m not wishing to say which domains people should and shouldn’t use. However I want people to be interested in learning about where their domain names come from. Ethics and provenance aren’t just questions we should be asking of our physical wares and next time you feed that domain name habit just think “what is the wider cost of that cool app name I just thought up?”.