Exclusive Interview with Alejandra Reynoso, CTO of the Guatemala .GT Registry
Guatemala is in Central America with a coastline on the North Pacific Ocean and bordering the Caribbean Sea. It encompasses mountains, lakes, coastal plains and beautiful temperatures year-round. It’s also home to the Maya ruins of Tikal, volcanoes and coffee. The Country Code domain, .GT is for Guatemalans to identify their own country and their own culture.
With Alejandra’s help the .GT Registry has grown to over 18,000 registrations. Join us as Alejandra gives the inside scoop on .GT marketing initiatives, struggles, pricing, the advantages of being located so close to the United States, and shares invaluable advice for other country code domain registries.
Watch the exclusive interview with Guatemala’s (.GT domain), CTO, Alejandra Reynoso below!
JA: I’d like to introduce Alejandra Reynoso, who I met at an ICANN meeting last month. What struck me abnout Alejandra is the hard work she is doing on behalf of the CCNSO. For those of you unfamiliar with that it is a country-code organization, part of ICANN that is working to help improve the experiences that people have with country-code domain names around the world. So besides your smile Alejandra, I noticed that you were working very hard on behalf of that organization. I’d like to start out by asking you a little bit about yourself. Let’s start with how did you get involved in the .gt registry?
AR: The .gt registry is located at the University of Guatemala. I was working at the Computer Science Department at the time, working as the Representative of the department for some time and I wanted to do something new. So I talked to my boss. told him I’d like to do something else besides teaching and he said, “You know, I have this little project… dot.gt”
JA: Oh, he called that “a little project”?
AR: Well, yes, He said, “If you’re interested we may create a new job position because there wasn’t actually an “open position”. He told me that they were in need of a technical person for .gt. So that was it. It was requested and fully documented that there was a need for the position and that’s how I arrived at .gt.
JA: Excellent, so your telling me that it started as somewhat of a college project?
AR: Well, that was a long time ago.
JA: How long have you been at the registry now?
AR: Since 2011, so about six years now.
JA: I’d like to ask a little bit more about Guatemala, I know where it is, below Mexico, above Nicaragua… I’m curious, are from there, born and raised in Guatemala?
AR: Haha, that’s an interesting question. Because I am Guatemalan although I was not born here. I was born in Mexico City.
JA: Oh really, okay.
AR: That was because my mom was working at the Guatemalan embassy in Mexico City at the time. And then well, I was born there.
JA: And you came home?
JA: Very cool.
AR: In short, yes.
JA: Very cool. Yeah, I don’t know too much about Guatemala except for that I do want to visit there someday.
AR: Well I can tell you that we have the nicest weather throughout the year. Of course, we have good days and bad days but for most of the year it will be a temperature between maybe 20 degrees and 25 degree Celsius for the majority of the year. And that’s the Guatemalan city because we are 1500 meters above sea level.
AR: We also have hot weather at the beach at the sea level and we have even cooler weather up in the mountains.
AR: We have very beautiful places to go. We have lakes, beaches, mountains, forests, volcanos.
JA: Yeah. So, its one of the larger of the central American countries obviously. So, looks like it’d be a great place to visit. I’ve been to Costa Rica, I just haven’t made it to Guatemala. So, I hope someday I can do that.
AR: Well maybe now that there will be some ICANN meetings near at Panama or Puerto Rico, then you will have the chance. Its very very beautiful.
JA: Yeah, I have friends who live in Panama and they say that’s really nice there too. So, okay were going to some of the business questions. So you manage the GT registry, .GT. Are there any restrictions at the registry? Related to usage, I mean I’m curious of how you, where do you market and are there any restrictions. I’m curious of some of the rules.
AR: Well, we do have a first level and a second level domain names.
AR: On the third level, we do have some restrictions. For what we call the closed domain names, as in it will be the government domain names. We have also a branch for military domain names, or defense and a branch for educational domain names. So, these three categories, you do need to provide documentation that you are actually.. ah…
JA: Yeah, you have to verify your position in essence.
AR: Exactly. Then we do have a better level The .com.GT, .org.GT, .net.GT, .ind.GT, that is because it was thought that IND is for individual.
JA: I see.
AR: They goal for that domain name branch is for people to use them for personal domain names. But it was not very popular.
JA: Okay, that happens.
AR: So, it has very few domain names there but that was the idea. And also we have the second-level domain names that means right under .GT and those are the open domain names that we do not require any sort of physical documentation or that you need to prove that you’re you in that way. And we do allow registrations from, of course from Guatemalan people, and from international as well.
JA: That was my question. So you do reach outside of Guatemala. You don’t restrict it to people that are only in country.
AR: Yes, but we do try to benefit, of course the Guatemalan people, so they have a lower price than the ones outside of Guatemala.
JA: Right. So the.. Can I ask how many domains are under the zone now or I’m just curious if that’s public?
AR: Well, yes, it is. But you can go to our website and we can, we tell you how many domain names are registered. Not all of them are in the zone file. Because companies are just register them to …
JA: To save them.
AR: Yes, exactly. So, nobody else will take them from them. So, we have right above 18,000 domain names. I think its 18,200 something like that.
JA: Yeah, that’s not bad. Is the Internet usage.. How is the Internet usage in Guatemala, is it a very high penetration, is there a lot of work to do in terms of connecting people there?
AR: Well I would say in Guatemala City its very widely spread but rest of the country not so much. So, we do need some work to do regarding the Internet penetration in the outside of the city.
JA: Do most people connect to the Internet through mobile phones similar to what’s going on in Africa?
AR: I would say yes. Because the mobile companies are very creative in that way. Because sometimes you do not have the infrastructure you like so, you cannot go with cable to some places in Guatemala, so they will go by mobile.
JA: Yeah. Going back to, so you register, you said you register domains right at the top level, if you were going to give advice to other country code registries around the world related to that and related to nexus rules and restrictions and registrations. What advice do you have for some of the ones that are nascent. I just came back from Africa and there is a lot there that haven’t even.. hardly started. I’m curious of what advice you might have for them.
AR: Well, I think what other ccTLDs do with the top level domain names and I think they’re doing a much better job than us. In being more enterprising maybe? Because the diversity, we don’t see the, that side of the story. We want to provide a good service and to let people get access to it more than to profit of it. So I’ve seen that in other countries those domain names are.. more.. restricted in accessibility and making them premium even. So, charging a lot much more than the other domain names. So I would.. my advice would be to analyze the strategy regarding profit. Not that we are doing a bad job but I think if your aim is to make more money then you should think this through before opening it.
JA: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I usually.. I always say you know whether a CCTLD is operated by a government, an individual or company, that profit is always important even if its non-profit they still try to fund things with the money that they can raise. So , it is important to think of it in an enterprise level as you put it. I think that’s a good advice.
AR: And going with that line of thought, to us its also amazing that are some country code top-level domains that do not charge at all for their domain names. They’re free, so there’s everything in this ccTLD world.
JA: You kind of see everything from every different level in terms of cost I guess.
AR: Yes, and another advice that I would.. that, this is true advice coming from experience I would say, to think through the strategy that they will develop to release them. There are several ways to do that. For example, one is to give us a Sunrise period and let everyone know that you are going to do this, so the ones that already have a registered domain name have access to the top-level domain name, the second-level domain names first.
AR: In a way that’s the way we did. We announced it to the world and if you had for example, lets say joe.com.GT and there was no other joe.net.GT then you will have preference to get joe.GT
JA: So, you give them the first right of refusal in essence.
AR: Yes. So, you might say I want it or I don’t. that’s one strategy. Another, that’s the one that the .UY ccTLD did it, its that they granted the second-level domain names to everyone that already had a domain name with them. So, they will give it to them for a year, lets say. If they renew it than it was theirs otherwise they lost the right to have it rightful.
JA: Right, yeah that makes a lot of sense. And its really considerate because those are the people who supported you and that helped you to get a start. So, you want to give them at least consideration. I think that makes a lot of sense.
AR: It’s also to stop any kind of legal battle according to who has the right to have a domain name or not. So, yes, I do think that people who already have a domain name should be the first to know that these will be available.
JA: You bring up a good point. The legal aspect is certainly important to consider. Especially since intellectual property interests are lobbying all over the world to make sure the rights are protected. So, I think that’s something you shouldn’t ignore. Its a good point. How do you feel, I’m curious of your philosophy. So you talked about free domains and you talked about some that charge a lot, what is your philosophy related to pricing? Do you think it matters in terms of acceptance of the CCTLD in the country, out of the country? What are your views on that?
AR: Well, we have done some research regarding domain name fees around the region and since were very close to the United States, that’s an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. Because well you can have a .com domain for less than ten U.S. dollars. And our lowest fee would be twenty dollars. So people think we are too expensive. But also compared to what, because if this is twenty dollars per year its not like a lot of money, that you will be unable to eat for a month if you pay the fee for example. I was exaggerating. So we do think that we have a, I would say a fair price. Because its not too expensive and its not cheap. Because as you say, we need to pay our bills also. And we do believe that its important that Guatemalan people has a .GT domain name so they feel identified with it. that’s why we have the lowest price in the region.
JA: I see.
AR: So that’s our view on fees.
JA: Actually, I would have agreed with it. Because I look at it that when a business.. to me a domain name is really important to a business. Its actually the foundation. I always say if you don’t know how to do business on the Internet today you really almost don’t know how to do business. Because its so important to most companies and so a domain name becomes their identity. Its almost, I think its as is important as, if not, more important than a trademark. Although I’m sure that trademark attorneys might disagree, but I think it really matters, because you know its so integrated with your company identity. So, you know, I don’t think prices, if something is ten or twenty dollars, I don’t think that’s going to matter. If a company likes the name, they’re going to want to get it, they’re going to want to keep it and use it.
AR: Yes, our main interest though, is to have an accurate information of the domain name holder. Because then we do have issues of people try to make changes on their domain names and then not being able to do so. Because they face information that they were not really sure yet. Because they were thinking of making this business and in the end, they didn’t do it. But they based a domain name on that business. So, then we have to find legal ways to make this happen. I think, they could of course change the domain name information.
JA: Yeah, I always tell people, if you think of a good idea, you better get your domain name right away.
AR: Exactly, we agree.
JA: Okay, what else. That is the next question I guess. We talked a little bit about the legal aspects. Do you guys work with the World Intellectual Property Organization? Do you have your own similar type there? I’m curious of how you handle that. When it comes to trademark claims or those types of issues.
AR: We do have to use the UDRP with WIPO. So, when there’s someone that has an issue with another, we tell them okay please refer to these UDRP process, let them know and let them outline what they say. So, we do not handle it at all. Because we don’t think that’s part of what we should do.
JA: I think that’s a good philosophy, certainly they’re recognized around the world and they make the legal aspect a lot easier so that makes a lot of sense. I wasn’t aware that you worked with them because not all country codes do, some do their own some of them work with WIPO.
AR: Yes, well we do this because in Guatemala you can also have a brand name for many things as in the same name. So, we are not anyone to decide who has the right between these names. For example, our national beer is called Gallo, and of course this is a very huge company with a lot of money and there’s also… this of the same brand of a soap and there’s a brand for matches. But they are not from the same company.
JA: Right, so there are different classes.
AR: Yes, so they’re all Gallo but they are different products from different companies. So then who should get it? The beer industry, the soap industry, the match industry? We cannot decide.
JA: Right, right. I can see you’re pretty knowledgeable about the intellectual property aspects. Okay, tell me a little about the technology of your registrar, I mean did you guys develop it, did you? I’m curious about how you guys manage that.
AR: This is an in-house software that we use so far. And it was built a long time ago, when I came into the picture I just did a little bit of an update, an upgrade of the system. And now we are developing a brand new one that will have the capabilities of the registry/register model.
JA: Really? I was going to ask you about it. So, I’m sure you have registrars now though, do you not?
AR: No, we don’t.
JA: Oh, I wasn’t aware of that.
AR: Not officially I would say. Because of all the hosting companies they will sell a whole package to their customers but they will buy their domain names from us. But there is not a system to communicate these transactions.
JA: Oh, I see.
AR: For example, we know this happens but we don’t have a deal with them or a contract.
JA: Right. So, in other words do they have to register domains manually today, or are you automating it?
AR: Well, its sort of manual that you have to fill in the information for your domain name. that’s the only manual part. Otherwise, everything else is automated. You can pay with your credit card and you can register and put in an ongoing domain name in less than a minute if you are quick to typist.
JA: Doesn’t take a lot of time or anything like that.
AR: No, no, no. You just fill in the form and once the form is confirmed by you that everything is okay. Then the screen for credit card payment appears and if you want to pay it right away, then you pay it right away.
JA: Okay, that’s pretty good. How are you guys dealing with the challenges of security today in ccTLDS? I know that’s a big issue.
AR: As in what?
JA: Well, have you signed the .GT zone yet?
AR: No, not yet. It’s in the plan, but the security is a very wide area. That’s what I meant, what do you mean by security? Because we do have our systems as secure as we hope they can be. We haven’t got any incidents regarding our systems.
JA: It’s certainly is a big problem you know around the world. It seems like in the Europe, U.S., you almost can’t read a newspaper every day without seeing somebody doing a DDOS attack or something going on, I was just curious about that. But you are planning it though?
AR: Yes, it is in our plan, strategy to make it possible in near future.
JA: Oh, that’s good. One of the questions I also wanted to ask you, so we talked about selling within and outside the country, do you have more customers in Guatemala or do you have more customers out of Guatemala?
AR: We do have more customers in Guatemala.
JA: Oh, you do. Oh okay.
AR: I would say, I don’t remember right now the specific statistics. But in my mind, I would say %70 it’s in Guatemala.
JA: Oh, wow. So, I imagine if I do come down there which I hope to do one day, and I’m driving on the freeway I will see something, some names maybe on the signs or billboards using .GT. Is it more common to see .GT or more common to see .com domains down there in the country?
AR: You re asking the wrong person because I’m biased. Whenever I see .GT, I feel like the light just turned on. So, when I see .com I just go like ugh. I’m sorry. But, yes, it is widely used though we do have an issue with the generics since again, the closeness to the U.S. It makes people want to be more available not only inside but to the outside world, so, .com is very common. I wouldn’t say you will see it everywhere, but it is used and we know that at least half of our customers are in a gTld like .com.
JA: So, people.. You’d say its probably half and half .GT and half .com
AR: Yes, or they will have both.
JA: Oh, they will have both. Which makes sense.
AR: The only thing I don’t like is they redirect to .com not to the .com.gt but anyway it happens.
JA: I certainly, understand how you feel about that, I would probably feel the same way. You know its a funny thing in the United States, very few people even use .us. It is used but it is much less common than .com and it is our country code so, that’s a question I have to ask the U.S. registry at some point in time.
AR: I think so because for me, and I’m saying this as a person that now knows about country codes, to me whenever I see a .com I think U.S. No matter where in the world it is I would think U.S. So, I think that’s maybe what’s happening there, that they are just assuming it’s their own country. But they should know that they should have .us at the end.
JA: How about in terms of marketing, do you have any special strategy that you use, that you think has been helpful or most successful for .GT?
AR: Well, yes, we try to reach to Guatemalan people as in saying .GT is Guatemala. So, they should identify themselves with .GT as their own country and their own culture. So, that’s what we strive when we do any marketing campaigns or any.. I don’t know, promotions for example. But we have our independence day on September 15th. So, in the month of September we try to make things, for example do some offers on domain names or letting people know that we’re doing this games, commercial, or social media, so they can win a prize. Like a t-shirt or some souvenir from .GT. So, that’s where we aim right now to make them aware that they’re from Guatemala and if they’re from Guatemala they should have a .GT.
JA: It makes a lot of sense. Do you think people trust the .GT if they’re in Guatemala, do you feel like they trust it a little bit more or? Some people say they trust .com more, some people say.. I don’t.. Every country is different, some people like the idea of a local domain.
AR: Well, we haven’t done any formal research on this but my sense of talking to people would be that sometimes they feel.. Its not a trust issue, maybe its that they think .com is just better because it was first maybe or everyone uses it in a way in their environment. So, the people surrounding them use .com so they should use .com. It depends, like I wouldn’t say that’s a trust issue if its made in Guatemala then its not trustworthy for example, because sometimes it happens that, if someone from your family tells you something is not worth it, it seems not true but if somebody else comes along and tells you the same then it seems it is true, something like that.
JA: I would think just the opposite but I do know what you’re referring to. In the U.S. we have a saying, “familiarity breeds contempt”. So, if you believe other people before you believe your own people, its kind of strange but it is that way.
AR: It is strange but sometimes… I don’t know, you explain it better.
JA: It’s the way people are.
AR: Yes, but I do believe that they like it, its more of an educational thing. Some people just don’t know it exists.
AR: .GT has been assigned to us 25 years ago.
JA: So, is it… I guess I did want to ask you that question, so every… I always have this thing I like to say, every country code has really three characters, it has the two characters that are part of the string and then it has the character of the registry or characteristics of the registry.
JA: So, in Guatemala, .GT, is it really controlled by you guys or the government? How is it organized legally?
AR: No, but by assessing the people that works at .GT, the university is the organization that manages it. But there is an office that specifically deals with everything that is domain name related. Of course, if there is any legal thing that needs to be signed then it needs to goes to the university authorities. They’re the legal representatives of .GT. And for the government, we do have a, I would say, a very good relationship and they don’t tell us how to do our things. They ask for advice, and they will consult things but they are not interested in managing it.
JA: Yeah. Well, they don’t have the kind of resources you do either, so I totally understand that. One other thing related to marketing, how do you guys feel, does it bother you, do you not care, you know I worked for 101domain for many years and we sold .GT in the United States. And believe it or not people buy the for different meanings, so you know maybe they buy it for thinking global trading or Gran Torismo, I think is a game, even the city like Georgetown or you know people kind of made up their own meanings. Do you guys get any feedback on that, how do you feel about this, does it bother you?
AR: Well, we do think about it. Would like to make more campaigns out of it. We even know that for example, in Chinese letters G and T are popular together. We don’t know what it means but we’ve been told it by Chinese people so, since we are a very small operation we will need to focus our resources carefully. So, what we do is we decide what comes as a priority so, right now we are aiming to build these registry/registrar projects. And when we launch it, then we’ll have more stability with it then we want to, well, with the help of the registrars, have these marketing campaigns, where we can reach out further than we can right now. So, yes we are thinking about these. And speaking of Georgetown, that’s the city in Guyana? And I know the technical Manager there, I think he is also the CEO of GY? And he said that he should have managed .GT because that’s Georgetown. So, I’m like, no. But he could be a registrar for us then. So that’s what we are aiming right now. To establish a more robust system and then spread.
JA: Makes sense. So, I saw how hard you worked for the CCNSO so, maybe this could be a little commercial for the work you guys are doing there so what do you want to say about the CCNSO? What would be interesting for people to hear?
AR: Well, the CCNSO is the name supporting organization for our country codes and its built by CCTLDs for CCTLDs. The main philosophy is that all CCTLDs are different in many ways, in sizes, in the kind of organizations that host them, the policies, everything. We know were different and its very well respected. So, the aim to have these CCNSO meetings and gatherings is to network, to make contacts and to support each other. As in maybe there is someone who is very good at marketing, so, maybe were not and then we can exchange views and strategies and help each other out. that’s the main goal of the CCNSO,and you don’t have to be member of the CCNSO to participate. That is very important, its optional that being a member and doesn’t require any payments. Only that the administration of the CCTOD requests to be a member, check with IANA that it is the person that they have in their files and if everything is okay then that’s it. Its not difficult. We do understand that, we
know every CCTLD is different. But some belonging to other organizations maybe in internal policies or something so, that does not interfere with the work. So, if someone in CCTLD wants to participate and then become a member, they can do so.
JA: That’s really good. Yeah, I had a great sense of cooperation and you guys have a lot of fun and you seem to work really well together. I think you get some stuff done, at least in the short time that I’ve observed it. So…
AR: Yes, I believe that we do have a very good environment. Since we will move things forward. So, if you have anything you can put into the table for anyone else to grab, then you do it. So, there is no competition.
JA: Alright, well we’ve come around to about the time for us to end, I just want to say thank you. You did stand out to me at the CCNSO, and I really appreciate that. And I think other people do too because they want to feel welcome, they want to feel a part, and that’s something that you did very well over there.
AR: Thank you very much.
JA: I look forward to see you again at other ICANN meetings. And this Alejandra Reynoso, of .GT and we really appreciate you coming on to country code people.
About Alejandra Reynoso
Alejandra holds BSc and MSc in Computer Science degrees from the University of the Valley, Guatemala (UVG), and has been a professor of the Computer Science department in UVG since 2004. She has taken a nascent registry and grown it to over 18,000 registrations.
In 2011 she joined the ccTLD .gt, as a researcher and technology developer and has been deeply involved with ICANN’s fellowship community, volunteering as a newcomer coach. As an active member of the ccNSO Ms. Reynoso has joined the Guideline Review Committee and the Programme Working Group. She is also working closely with LACTLD and the LAC technical community, participating in several committees such as: technical workshop program committee, LAC Strategic Plan Implementation and a program to support a study to develop a business vision of the registry according to each of the ccTLDs needs.
CCNSO = Country Code Name Supporting Organization (within ICANN)
ccTLD = Country-Code Top Level Domain Name