UniForum SA: Past, present and future

Just as one could look at a mega-corporation such as Google today and marvel at its garage days pedigree, so many of us in the South African Internet community could never have imagined way back in 1988 that UniForum would one day be responsible for registering over 575 000 CO.ZA domains.

In fact, I am pretty sure that in 1988 all the domains in cyberspace put together possibly didn’t equal half a million but I am sure my industry colleagues will correct me if they did. UniForum today is the epitome of an industry success story built on the principles of cooperation, commitment and hard work by a cadre of dedicated and talented individuals.

Twenty-two years ago they were a motley group of end users, developers, and vendors who got together to form a professional association that would promote and exchange information on open systems. It was given the responsibility of administering the CO.ZA domain name space in 1995 because it not only had the technical skills to do so but was also committed to neutrality and unity of purpose.

So many years later, UniForum remains as committed as ever to the kind of open and information rich society that helps to guarantee our democracy since it was given the significant responsibility of looking after the co.za domain. This happened, coincidentally for the implications for democracy, at an ISP Summit one year after South Africa’s unprecedented transition.

Today, about 95% of the total registrations in the .ZA top level domain are to be found in the co.za domain. I would say that fact is the proverbial proof in the pudding. In addition, the fact that UniForum has possibly discovered the right mix of technical and business skills is underscored by the reaching, in September last year, of the half a million domain name milestone, as well as the fact that CO.ZA has been indisputably confirmed as the largest domain name zone in Africa and one of the most successful registries worldwide.

The reference to the business side of the organisation above notwithstanding, UniForum is at its heart an organisation that has the growth of the Internet in South Africa as its raison d’être. However, in pursuance of this agenda, UniForum also took an active role in establishing the alternate dispute resolution process for  adjudicating domain name disputes in the co.za domain.

While UniForum tries very hard to excel in what you would call the more day-to-day ‘technical’ side of managing the CO.ZA domain, we also try to attend to certain overarching objectives in line with the direction all of us want South Africa to head towards. With this in mind, and recognising the importance of inclusivity, UniForum translated the CO.ZA administration site into all 11 official languages as far back as 2001.

Throughout its history, UniForum has also cooperated with a range of other industry bodies to drive the growth of the South African Internet. We joined the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) in 1996, and have since worked with ISPA on a range of web and social responsibility projects. Of these, our involvement over the past eight years with the annual iWeek conference and the “Train the Teachers” is probably the most well-known. Furthermore, UniForum addresses learner education, educator development and the provision of IT infrastructure through the Mindset Computer Science Curriculum project, COZA Cares School of the Month project and ISPA Teacher Training initiatives.

We have also tried to shape the industry by taking part in important debates, for example, by making contributions to parliamentary discussions about important laws with wide-reaching consequences for South African Internet users such as the Electronic Communications and Transactions Bill, providing regular input to the ZADNA on domain related issues and providing regular DNS training to the South African Internet community at large. The result is that our contributions have helped to keep South Africa’s Internet industry at the forefront of the World Wide Web.

In summary, UniForum has always served as a non-profit organisation that exists for the good of the South African Internet. We are proud to have remained true to the basic premise that surplus funds raised beyond covering our expenses are ploughed back into the greater Internet community. Although our role and the way forward might be changing, our principles and ideals have remained constant for more than 22 years and will endure into the future.

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UniForum SA: Past, present and future