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New Domain Registry, dotHIV, Collects Clicks to Combat HIV/AIDS

August 28, 2014

Carolin Silbernagl, co-founder of dotHIV and CEO of the TLD dotHIV Registry

Carolin Silbernagl, co-founder of dotHIV and CEO of the TLD dotHIV Registry

We all know that HIV is a virus. But now, it's also a top level domain (TLD) on the Internet -- a technological and fundraising innovation that its sponsors hope will generate new resources and interest in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

For years, a small and finite list of TLDs has been the most familiar: suffixes like .com, .org and .gov have been used for every website and email address.

Over 300 new TLDs -- from .associates to .WTF -- have now been approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). But .hiv (called dotHIV by its sponsors) is the sole TLD dedicated to a social cause: raising funds for efforts to fight HIV.

"Beginning today we will stand with other TLDs like .com and .org. It will now be possible to click on .hiv addresses like amazon.hiv, gmhc.hiv and sport.hiv and make a difference in the fight against AIDS," Carolin Silbernagl, co-founder and CEO of the dotHIV Registry, announced on August 26, 2014.

Here's how it works:

dotHIV: where does the money go
  • The dotHIV Registry (working through intermediaries) provides .hiv domain names for about $17 per month (though it is providing one free .hiv name for any non-profit organization). An individual, business or organization could put up a site -- for example, amazon.hiv or PrEP.hiv-- choosing to either replicate an existing site (like amazon.com) or to put up an original site with a focus on HIV.
  • dotHIV saves up the rental fees for the domain names, and then will allocate 1 cent of that total every time a person clicks on any .hiv site.
  • dotHIV claims to be able to donate when it reaches more than 5000 registered names. The group believes this will happen rather quickly; it's taken just two to three months for the other new TLDs to get to this threshold.
  • The group guarantees that at least 70 percent of the domain fees will go directly to HIV programs. That means that for every $179 in an annual domain fee, $125 should reach benefiting groups. It is hoping to increase that to at least 80 percent after it pays back the money borrowed to get the registry going -- and these conservative estimates place that tipping point at seven years.

So will this innovative scheme raise significant funds and elevate global HIV consciousness? It remains to be seen, but Silbernagl stresses that it's a very lean team running a scale-able enterprise -- she notes it's as expensive for the group to run one domain as 10,000 or 1 million -- in the domain-sales market, which continues to grow.

Would a $178 domain be worth much more to corporations that could wrap themselves in a virtual red ribbon through a well-marketed site, potentially benefiting their image or bottom line more than the HIV/AIDS community? In 2007, it was found that corporations taking part in the highly visible Red campaign spent an estimated $100 million on marketing, generating only $18 million for the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria.

"The proliferation of new top level domains like .hiv is really just another way people are exploiting the Internet for profit, which ultimately erodes it as a foundation for revolutionary communication," notes Jamie McClellan of the May First Technology Collective. "DotHIV is a nonprofit -- so it doesn't technically stand as an example of privatizing the Internet and makes it a hard target to single out. However, it is essentially consumerist in nature and will thrive based on the abilities of corporations to exploit .hiv for their own profit."

What about concerns about "red-washing"? Could corporations or organizations whose policies or practices do not support the fight against HIV, or that actually accelerate the epidemic, just use a .hiv site to improve their public image, or their bottom line?

Silbernagl says it's an important topic. She explains that "public controversy is a powerful tool. We hope that the companies that expose themselves to the public attention that comes with a .hiv domain name, and will be monitored by the communities."

For example, she suggests that, "If someone is putting up a .hiv name and not having a valid workplace program [for workers living with HIV], that is something the community and we can tap into ... Where do you draw the line? Do you say only Levis [noted for its extensive HIV programming for workers] is entitled to a .hiv domain name? That can't be the solution. If someone who hasn't even thought about a workplace program starts to think about it, and takes the first step because they opened up the door of the social causes, I'm super happy."

The registry intends to support small, community based projects all over the world that make use of information technology and the Internet for their work -- a plan that the founders say they developed closely with UNAIDS, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria. Eventually, the people who click on the sites will vote on which groups get the donations. But the first four beneficiaries have been pre-selected to get things rolling.

WE-ACTx for Hope, located in Rwanda, will receive around $80,000 when the first round of funding is in. While the Rwandan government provides antiretroviral therapy, WE-ACTx uses mobile phones to help adolescents adhere to treatment. It also provides support groups for health care workers and peer educators, and provides trauma counselors and psychiatric nurses to help support mothers and caregivers living with HIV.

When the next tranche of funds is raised, it will support a new Network Empowerment Project at the U.S.-based Sero Project, best known for its work against HIV criminalization.

"We will promote the engagement of people with HIV in all aspects of policy development and service delivery," explained Sean Strub, Sero Project's executive director. "A fundamental building block of empowerment is people with HIV being with each other and creating networks -- whether organized structured networks with an advocacy purpose or whether a 'positive bowling league' or monthly potluck supper or something that exists online. The Network Empowerment Project will be focused on creating digital tools to facilitate the creation and strengthening of networks of people with HIV."

"The idea [of dotHIV] is truly visionary," he added. "The time it took for me and other people to grasp the potential of this is almost indicative of that. The extent to which it'll work, to which it'll be a success, is unknown. I like and respect the people who are leading the project; they've been very sincere about community engagement. The process of going through our proposal with them was a fairly detailed application. We put work and effort in it, and they came back with very specific ideas and suggestions. They had real experts look at this."

The next two groups that may receive funding would be WhizzKids United in South Africa, and the Positive Living Association in Turkey.

Silbernagl calls dotHIV "an easy entrance door in a difficult topic; that's true both for the website owners and the Internet users."

In the days ahead, it'll become clearer who is opening that door, rather than just purchasing a key. While many have purchased domain names, only a few have launched their .hiv sites. A list provided to TheBody.com included multiple domain registration from Gilead, Merck Sharp Dohme, Google and Twitter, among others, but none of the sites tested were up and running.

The DotHIV registry says that "many large brands such as Amazon, Instagram, tumblr, LinkedIn, Samsung and BMW have already registered their .hiv domain," and suggests that "a .hiv address is a good example of how to show support on World AIDS Day on Dec. 1."

Julie "JD" Davids is the managing editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

Follow JD on Twitter: @JDAtTheBody.


Copyright © 2014 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.


  
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