I am always fascinated by how people see Internet domains. I do not expect everyone to grasp all of the technical details of DNS or the nuance of the meaning behind the word domain, but I'm perpetually amazed by what people associate or do not associate with the concept. I like to write about these things under my domain literacy work, saving the research I do for future use, but also using the process to polish my storytelling on the subject, and hopefully being more influential when it comes to domain literacy discussions.
After watching the conversation around Audrey's decision to block annotation from her domain(s), I just wanted to take a moment and capture a few of the strange misconceptions around domains I've seen come up, as well as rework some of the existing myths and misunderstandings I deal with regularly when it comes to my API research, and wider domain literacy work. Let's explore some of the storytelling going on when it comes to what is an Internet domain.
What Is A Domain?
Many folks have no idea what a domain is. That they type them in regularly in their browsers, click on them, let alone that you can buy and own your own domain. This illiteracy actually plays into the hands of tech entrepreneurs, and each wave of capitalists who are investing in them--they do not want you knowing the details of each domain, who is behind them, and they want to make sure you are always operating on someone else's domain. It is how they will own, aggregate, and monetize your bits, always being the first to extract any value from what you do online, and via your mobile phones.
You Don't Own Your Domain!
A regular thing I hear back from people about domains is that you don't every truly own your domain. Well, I'd first say that you never really truly own ANYTHING, but that is probably another conversation. Do you really own your house? What happens if you don't pay your taxes, or use and respect the title company, and other powers involved? What about imminent domain laws? Sure, you don't really own your domain, but you are able to purchase it, control the addressing of it, and decide what gets hosted there (or not). It's pretty damn close to a common definition of ownership for this discussion.
Your Domain Is On the Internet So It Is Public!
Just walk yourself through the top domains you can think of. Does this argument hold any water? Every part, of every domain on the Internet is public because it uses public DNS and Internet infrastructure? No. There are so many grades of access and availability across many domains that use public infrastructure. Domain owners and operators get to determine which portions of a domain are accessible by the public, private partners, and even across internal actors. Even on the public areas, not protected by a password, there can be different levels of content delivery based upon region, individual IP address, or just randomly, leaving it to the algorithm to personalize what you will see. There are no guaranttees of something being public, just because it uses a public domain.
Domain Name Servers (DNS) Is Voodoo
Yes. DNS is voodoo. I've been managing DNS professionally for domains since 1998, and I still think it's voodoo. Even with DNS being a dark art, it is still something the average person can comprehend, and even manage at a basic level for simple domains, especially with the help of DNS service providers. DNS is the address, doorway and even the fence for the perimeter of your domain. DNS also helps you define and quantify the size of your domain, with the number of domains exponentially expanding your digital territory. A basic level proficiency with DNS is required to manage your own domain(s) successfully.
We Own What You Do In Our Domain!
Ok. Sure. Any new data or content that is generated by systems running within your domain can be seen as YOUR intellectual property. However, when you invite people to bring their bits (photos, videos, thoughts) to your domain and don't really educate them about intellectual property, and what you are up to, it can be easily argued that maybe what people generate in your domain isn't always yours. Even with that said, ensuring things happen within a specific domain, so that you can place some sort of ownership claim over those bits is a pretty standard operating procedure for the web today. This is why most of my work is conducted via my own domain(s) each day, and syndicated out to other domains as I see fit.
There Is No Real Difference Between Domains
As people surf the web, they rarely see the difference between each domain. Unless it's big brands like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and others, I don't think people really ever consider the domain they are on, or who might be behind it. Those of us in the business do a lot of thinking about domains and see the crack in the web, but the average person doesn't see the boundaries, differences, or motivations behind. This all contributes to many different paths people take when it comes to domain literacy--depending on where they boarded with the concepts they'll see domains very differently. While some of us enjoy helping others understand domains, there are many who think it should be kept in the realm of the dark arts, and something normals shouldn't worry their pretty little heads about.
Everybody Gets The Same Experience At A Public Domain
Each domain you visit on the public web looks the same for everyone who visits, is a common perception I get from folks. We are good at projecting our reality at common online domains onto other people. The news I see on my favorite news site is what everyone else sees. My view of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is similar to what other people experience, or rather, I don't think people spend much time thinking about it, things are the way they are through a lack of curiosity. My Facebook is definitely not your Facebook. Our web experience is increasingly personalized and bubbleized, changing how and what each domain will mean to different folks. Net Neutrality is under attack on many fronts and is rapidly being eroded away in our browsers and on our mobile phones via the major providers.
I am captivated by this version of our online world that is unfolding around us. What worries me is the lack of understanding about how it works and some awareness of where they are all operating when online. People don't seem concerned with knowing what is safe, what is not. What worries me the most is that number of people who don't even have the concept of a domain, domain ownership, and any sense of separation between sites online. After that, the misuse, misinformation, and obfuscation of the digital world by people operating in the shadows and benefitting from ad revenue. I know many folks who would argue that we need to create safe spaces (domains) like Facebook where people can operate, but I feel pretty strongly that this is an Internet discussion, and not merely a platform one.
We have a lot of work ahead of us when it comes to web literacy. With the amount of time we are spending online, and the ways we are letting it infiltrate our physical worlds, we have to do better and educating people about the basic building blocks of the web. If we let "them" ruin the web, and platforms are the only safe place to be--cooperations win, and this grand experiment called the web is over. Maybe it already is, or maybe it never was, or maybe we can just help folks just see the web for what it is.