A softball question..

CIRA is over 15 years old which is an eternity in technology and the Internet.

When it was formed it was enviosned to be a membership based organization where the many dot-ca domain holders would be actively engaged in the going on of the organization. 15 years and 2+ million domains later CIRA has been hugely successful in so many areas except membership engagement - and not through lack of effort in the area. We can see the lack of engagement in many events. The AGM is sparsely attended and the elections garner a small fraction of the membership. The membership itself is also only a small fraction of the dot-ca base.

Considerable resources are spent on this area that could be diverted to other successful areas of the organization.

It could be possible that the concept of CIRA as a membership based organization of domain holders is outdated and that a new model should be proposed which sees CIRA more accountable to the Canadian Internet Community or similar.

What have been your observations of this process over the years and do you think CIRA should consider to expend consider such a change? Is this simply the nature of the beast? At what point should the organization stop efforts to further engage the members? What alternatives would you consider exploring and what has been your experience in this area? Is the dot-ca domain, a national treasure,  for which CIRA is a guardian best served by this model?






Kerry Brown's picture

As a board member for the past eight years I am very interested in what members as well as the candidates think about this. It is a struggle that all member based organisations face. I have seen this in every organisation I am a member of. I have not seen a solution yet in any of them. My personal opinion is that having a large number of members is important, even if the vast majority do not engage. It provides a check in case something goes wrong. If the board and/or staff went completely off the rails having a large balanced membership could ensure it gets corrected.

louisem's picture

 A great one Paul, and one which we have discussed at length (usually with some measure of despondency at the lack of member engagement) at the Board level. CIRA has done about as much as it can to invite more member involvement, some say it's the nature of the beast of member-based organizations and we needn't try to do more (especially if expensive!). I held the view that registrants should automatically become members, but apparently studies and/or experience elsewhere has shown that that alone (more members) doesn't increase member engagement. So the question is relevant: What is the role of that particular stakeholder group in creating the current and future success of CIRA?

Personally I would welcome a serious debate on this topic aimed at renewing the model to reflect today's reality. CIRA is a vibrant organization in so many ways, and there should be similarly energetic accountability to the right stakeholders, including the Canadian internet community...but how do we define that group? The Board has already started a new conversation, albeit more general one, about CIRA's stakeholders, so perhaps this question will be properly debated in the not-too-distant future.

I would love to hear what some of the other candidates think, since we all are presumably more engaged members than the average...!

Thanks for the question.

Rowena's picture

I too have involvement in many member based organization and yes getting member engagement is a struggle...especially in good times.  But as Kerry pointed out it is an avenue for people to get involved and garner support in case there are issues.

At one member based organization that I was involved in we let members vote on Community Investment projects. It is one way of getting more members,   It is certainly a good topic for further discussion.

leedale's picture

Thanks for the comprehensive "softball", Paul. :-)

Given the debate I know has occured on this topic, along with the efforts CIRA undertakes to engage its constituents and the limited engagement despite these efforts, there's lots to explore here.

I can say that, as an engaged member who is quite significantly interested in participating in the organization and pleased to have the opportunity to do so through this forum, in conjunction with the other board candidates, throughout the years at various member events, and by way of this member-driven process, I appreciate what the current structure offers over something private, or somewhere in between.

I know discussing CIRA with an interested citizen who is not a .ca domain owner, that they were curious why this membership stipulation exists, particularly as CIRA continues to invest in other intiatives that impact them. They would like to participate as a member, but without a .ca domain name, can't. That's an interesting question to me as CIRA continues to build towards a better online Canada. 

Finally, it's no surpise to me that .ca domain holders, who are then tasked with making a concerted effort to become members, don't, or that many members do not participate on a regular basis. Most communities, organizations, and networks follow these patterns of engagement. If there are circumstances where those you can contribute are prevented from doing so, those need to be mitigated. But, by and large, I do not believe it's a reflection of CIRA that members are not participating. I do think efforts to encourage participation should continue, while being evaluated and refined on an ongoing basis.

I'd also be very interested in hearing more about alternative strucutres that have been considered.

Frank_Michlick's picture

This is and remains a challenge for organizations like CIRA.

Unfortunately there's no clear an easy solution. The ICANN process shows that a volunteer organization can also swallow huge amounts of money, while still only attracting a subset of all stakeholders and other volunteers.

However the type of organization that CIRA is should be examined and compared to other solutions out there - what are the alternatives and how would .CA develop under a different model. What about a model where the registrars own the registry as a co-operative - like .DE? Or the Nominet model, where membership is open to registrars and anyone else, which differs from the CIRA model in some points? Which other models are out there?

The type of organization would also impact the priorities. Should CIRA main focus be .CA? Should they offer services to other TLDs? Should this be limited to those TLDs that have an impact on the Canadian market? Should the organization offer other services?


  • mneylon's picture


    The Nominet model isn't without its issues. Member engagement in Nominet is incredibly low with only a tiny fraction of the member engaging at any level. Nominet has been trying to deal with this while also evolving as an organisation, but the turnout for elections is still really low and unlikely to change.


    • Frank_Michlick's picture

      @Michele: Thanks for dropping by, good to see you here. I just used it as an example - the German coop model also had its challenges over the years. Each model will come with issues and the board will have to weigh which one works best for CIRA, should they decide to change things.

jfmezei's picture

Limiting invites to events (Such as Ottawa in spring)  is a great way to ensure fewer people show up.

Putting events sign up on obscure page on your web site only people who have gotteh an invite is another way,

Not responding on twitter was a member got wind of an event asks how to register is anotyher way.


And that is for a member who _was_ interested in participating.  And you wonder why those who don't even know about CIRA events don't participate ?

If you have decided to be selective about whom you invite, fine. But then don't complain about low particpation.

  • Frank_Michlick's picture

     Was that the Canadian Internet Forum? Sorry about your experience, great that you were interested in attending. Maybe someone from CIRA can comment on the details - I attended in one of the previous years and it was an interesting event. I remember there being an issue with the agenda being published late, but I have never had issues with getting responses from the CIRA team. Usually I do not use social media though, I either go via the chat on the site, email or speak to the person responsible directly, if I know who they are.

    I'm not sure what the registration process for the Canadian Internet Forum was like this year, but I hope your feedback is being taken into account by the board & CIRA staff. That being said, I do think the elction site could use some improvements as well - I always find that I have to search for the timeline and details of the process and yet this isn't the first time I'm going through it.

    Are you coming to Canadians Connected in Toronto on Sept 22nd? Did you receive your invite for that? You can also view this remotely.

    leedale's picture

    That sounds frustrating. Sorry you had to go through all of that.

    I haven't experienced those kinds of issues as a member, although I find in my own experience that it's easy for me to miss invites that come by email.

    In any case, I believe active marketing channels should mandate a reasonable response time and access to information, particuarly when there's an event or deadline in play. Member access needs to be a priority. That the AGM is being broadcast online speaks to this, as it serves members who are unable to attend in person, and offers alternative access if the venue capacity is reached. If you haven't seen an invite for Canadians Connected on Sep 22, here's a link with more info: https://cira.ca/node/10667

Louise Poirier-Landry's picture

Several very good points being have been raised by participants to this discussion

One question that I would like to ask is: Is this industry different than other more traditional?

Very often organizations rest on the shoulders of very few members. Tremendous efforts have to be devoted to get members participating and from my experience to get them participating actively they need to see immediate bnefits. In my mind CIRA's members behave in no different than other company/industry. Majority is silent unless immediate and visible benefit to behave otherwise.

I also think that CIRA has a marketing problem, many people that I know will not choose .ca they see more benefit in .com because they will look more global. I really think that a good marketing campaign, promoting the efforts of .ca to become global in today's economy will both grow the membership and bring forward the advantages of the .ca domain.



  • Frank_Michlick's picture

    I agree on the marketing problem.

    There's a local health food store that recenlty opened their doors around here. At first they were only using Facebook(!) to market their store. A bad choice to start with as you're relying on something out of your control (a Facebook page) to provide your information. I did ask them about registereing their domain name as well, as they hadn't done so yet. But what do they do? They register the .COM of their name, even though it is a local store only. They registered it at GoDaddy.

    I'm not sure what type of co-marketing efforts CIRA does with registrars beyond the Google sponsored Get Online campaign a few years back that gave people a free .CA domain with a website builder a while back. Maybe something  like the gTLD registries are doing with registrars could work here, i.e. joint marketing promotions that gives registrars a break and incents them to sell more .CAs. We're now competing with a number of new gTLDs too that have attractive pricing and higher margins for registrars.

    I get the .COM for global businesses, but if you're Canadian, shouldn't you have both? And if you're local, why not just go with the .CA? Is it just due to the higher resale value of a .COM domain? What do you think businesses chose generic TLDs over the one for their country?

    • leedale's picture

      I believe .COM was and remains the defacto standard for any online presence. I don't think CIRA can easily compete with that, local or otherwise, because it's everyone's first instinct. Local, perhaps less tech-savvy business owners, likely look for their .COM, and fall back on .CA. The more tech savvy business owners might consider a .tv, .io, or other gTLD related to their business instead of a .CA, but we would do well to continue to push Canadian businesses serving Canadians to highlight that with a .CA presence.

      With that in mind, the marketing material I've seen from CIRA (and I don't have insight into how and where this has been distributed, but that is an important question) has done a good job of highlighting the value of a .CA, including some of the other tenets we spoke about—it means a Canadian operation, and the site is for Canadians. Continuing to get this message out—along with continuing infrastructure efforts around access, security, and privacy—will drive this value home to increase the likelihood of locally operating business wanting to identify as a Canadian operation.

      • mzahra1's picture

        Since it came out in 1985, .com is for "commercial" and indeed became the de facto. It seems first-to-market continues to trump all else in the digital world.   I would agree .com is the "go to" for an online presence vs .ca.   Is it almost like pushing us Canadians to be patriotic to Canada in a world dominated by forces outside of Canada.  Not an easy task.  Unrestricted gTLD's dont make it any easier.  Maybe it's easier to drive Canadian businesses to register .ca in addition to their .com (and others).

Louise Poirier-Landry's picture

In my opinion Frank this is pure ignorance therefore a good marketing strategy explaining to the "GoDaddy" guys and the others the value added of .CA domain. When you understand as a retailer your benefits of using a strategy you get to use it and .Ca can promote the fact that Canada is a country with its values, its desire to network internationally as we are export dependant and so on.

.Ca has a real lack of visibility outside of the IT world. An entrepreneur who decide to use marketing through the Net has to resolve an all buch of issues on which he is very often ignorant. We have to facilitate their life and make it user-friendly as well as offering on the plateau the reason why he should use .Ca domain. This has not been done yet. 

  • Frank_Michlick's picture

    @Louise: I agree with the lack of visibility outside the IT world.

    I don't think telling GoDaddy and other registrars what the value is will be enough, when they are getting marketing rebates and incentives from other top level domain operators. In order to stand out and along with others, we will most likely need to invest in this. For a while GoDaddy was really promoting .CO domains to their customers everywhere, which largely affected their registration numbers, due to the fact that GoDaddy is the registrar with the largest marketshare globally. It was a huge investment for .CO, but it paid off. And this is just one registrar - for example webnames.ca is currently promoting .CA, but also .LIVE, .STUDIO, .LINK and .CLICK.

    Many new top level domains started their marketing by making sure high profile sites in the industry fitting the TLD will use their TLD - basically this is some type of content marketing by URL. Now we already have some Canadian sites & publications using .CA (cbc.ca), but others are not (theglobeandmail.com, nationalpost.com). Maybe this is an area where we could innovate and spend some marketing dollars.


    Is growth part of the goals?

    • leedale's picture

      The goal should be defining, providing, and marketing value across all channels through a complementary ecosystem. This will lead to growth.

      If Canadian citizens demand .CA, then businesses will follow. That means clearly defining the value of .CA to Canadians.

      If businesses understand that .CA defines their presence and audience, that leads to clarity from a sales and marketing point of view. Businesses should lean towards .CA.

      Together, it should become a standard for busineses operating in Canada.

      • ve3oat's picture

        Do you think that it would help to increase membership, establish the CIRA brand, and generally advertise the existence of .CA if CIRA had a logo that members could copy and display on their websites?  I am aware that some, perhaps many, member-based organizations promote themselves in this way. 

        When copied and displayed elsewhere, the present CIRA logo has a pixelated background, making it unsuitable for this. 

        ... Martin Potter


Frank_Michlick's picture

I wanted to add something else to a question asked by Louise:

One question that I would like to ask is: Is this industry different than other more traditional?

While CIRA itself is similar to other membership driven organizations, it sells services more like a typical for profit business. I think the domain industry differs from other industries by some key points - which is also why we have registry businesses run by individuals, ministries, universities, not for profits, coops and the like.

The origin of the Internet and domain names is non-commercial and driven by the decisions of technically minded individuals and small groups. In the very beginning, .COM, .NET and even .CA names (until 2000) were free. You just had to contact someone and in most cases they would enter the domain name in a file, restart the nameserver once a day and you had a resolving  domain. Today the Internet is still governed by many passionate people, some with commercial interests or companies sponsoring them, but many of them volunteering lots of their time. Look at all of the RFCs (request for comments) that are out there, defining protocols and functionality - old and new. This is the true spirit of the Internet, as this volunteer work defines how our internet works.


ICANN also is a very unique body and concept in this scale - maybe somewhat comparable to something like the UN or the ITU, but even then quite different. It is an attempt to rule parts of the internet with a global consensus policy. ICANN especially is up for exciting times, trying to loosen it's ties to the US government and clearly not understood by some vocal politicians.

For anyone that would like to get a glimpse into the history of DNS & Domains - this is a great podcast interview with Paul Mockapetris, the inventor of the DNS by Andrew Alleman of Domain Name Wire.


MarkLatham's picture

Great discussion on this important topic! Thank you paulandersen for launching it. I'm one of the few actively engaged CIRA members for the past five years – see my blog at http://votermedia.blogspot.ca/search/label/CIRA. As you can see from the tag cloud there, I've studied various membership organizations, with a focus on engagement and accountability.

Picking up on comments already made on this thread above:

I agree with Kerry Brown: "... having a large number of members is important, even if the vast majority do not engage. It provides a check in case something goes wrong."

I also agree with leedale and the "interested citizen who is not a .ca domain owner, that they were curious why this membership stipulation exists, particularly as CIRA continues to invest in other intiatives that impact them. They would like to participate as a member, but without a .ca domain name, can't. That's an interesting question to me as CIRA continues to build towards a better online Canada."

Indeed, CIRA affirms that "Proceeds from every .CA sold are reinvested directly into the Canadian Internet community through the Community Investment Program." [https://cira.ca/ca-domains] As you can see from the CIP projects at https://cira.ca/build-better-internet/community-investment-program/find-..., they benefit all Canadians, not just domain registrants. So CIRA sees the Canadian Internet community as including all Canadians who use the internet. It would make sense to let any Canadian join  CIRA, which would increase member engagement and accountability.

Good suggestion Rowena, to consider letting members vote on Community Investment projects. CIRA could take a first step in that direction by letting members vote to allocate a small budget among competing providers of voter information during the CIRA board election each year. That would help us choose the best director candidates, and increase voter turnout by reducing the amount of research each member must do to vote intelligently. I've outlined this idea in several places, including:

- http://votermedia.blogspot.ca/2012/04/keep-canadas-internet-democratic-o...

- http://votermedia.org/publications/2016-09-06-Latham-comments-on-Canadia...

Discussions like this thread are too important to erase. We should enhance member information and engagement by keeping an online forum open year-round on any CIRA-related topics, with a special section for this election forum each year. It's often helpful to see what was said on a topic in the past, so we can build on it instead of reinventing it.

Lack of member involvement in this election forum is also not surprising because of its design flaws:

- Frank_Michlick above: "I do think the elction site could use some improvements as well - I always find that I have to search for the timeline and details of the process and yet this isn't the first time I'm going through it."

- Rowena [https://cira.ca/2016-campaign-forum/linking-forum]: "Do you find it a bit difficult to find this forum if you don't know exactly where to go? My link goes to the CIRA Home page but I need to search to get to the Forum..." Indeed, on CIRA's home page there is no mention of the election or this forum. Reminds me of the movie "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"  :-)

- Once you get to the forum, you see the message "Get to know the final candidates!" But there's no link to the list of candidates and their candidate statements. If you got to the forum by a direct link (like from a CIRA email), good luck finding that important candidate info.

- Arriving at the forum for the first time, you can see "Log in to post new content in the forum." Click that and you find the instruction "Enter your Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) username." In the past 5 years I've been prompted to create several CIRA usernames, at member.cira.ca, cif.cira.ca, participate.cira.ca, and forum.cira.ca. So I tried them all, and they all failed. Then it occurred to me that the instruction should have said "You now have to create yet another CIRA username!" I'm persistent, but other members may not be.

Apologies for this lengthy post, but it all seems relevant. I look forward to your further discussion – too bad this forum closes in 2 days. Feel free to contact me: mark@votermedia.org

  • leedale's picture

    Thanks for this detailed post, Mark. You've highlighted a number of issues that all have an impact on member access and engagement. I'm looking forward to learning more about the infrastructure, decisions, and go-forward plan for mitigating some of these issues. I know many of them are well understood by the CIRA team and I'm hopeful I'll have the opportunity to accelerate improvements in these areas as a board member.

DaveBest's picture



If my CIRA frustrating engagement experience over the past year is not unique, it is no wonder there is low member involvement. The website for the most part is not user friendly, and multiple login registrations are annoying. More importantly, CIRA communications are not very clear. After a year, I am still unclear as to what CIRA purpose is, other than owner of .ca ecosystem. To engage members you have to give them something they value. Possibly voting power on cummunity projects, competitions that promote recognition, more effective user feedback processes and support. In general members want a purpose for being engaged, and they don't want complex procedures.

mzahra1's picture

Many people know the price of everything but not the value of anything.  Apologies if this has been done, but what have members said in terms of what value CIRA membership brings if we're trying to drive CIRA membership engagement?  Also, how does one define engagement.  Members may be passively engaged ie reading white papers, following trends, using some services etc but not fully, actively engaged in both directions ie attending meetings etc?  Thank you.