What I Mean When I Say Domain Literacy

Online web domains are an increasingly important aspect of our daily business and personal lives. I get that the average folk could care less about domains, DNS, and the nuts and bolts of how the web works, but after this election, and as more of our personal and professional lives move online, I feel like folks ignore some of the deeper details at their own peril. In 2016, you either work on someone else's farm (domain), or you work on your own, and increasingly folks are operating their personal lives and business worlds entirely on someone's else's domain.

I do not expect folks to understand domains at a very technical level, but I'm working to develop a baseline expectation of what people should know, and evolve this into a coherent definition of what domain literacy means to me. Domain literacy for me means that an average citizen should have the following awareness:

  • Domains Exist - A basic knowledge that domains exist, they there are many different top level domains, and be able to look at the address bar in their browser and make sense of the domain they are operating within.
  • Domain Due Diligence - Have a basic awareness that there are different entities behind domains, ranging from individuals to corporate, institutional, and government own domains. Ideally they also have basic knowledge of how to conduct a little due diligence to understand who is behind (ie. Whois, Business Search).
  • Domain Experts - Understand which domains are goto when it comes to finding domain experts. Ok, this is where the meaning starts to morph and bend, but I think contributes to the depth of domain literacy, and contributes to the importance of critical thinking as part of developing and strengthing domain literacy.
  • Operate Your Own Domain - That is possible for ANYONE to purchase, and operate their own domain on the Internet, and that this means more than just having a blog or an e-commerce site. Ideally, there is a basic understanding of where to purchase and host your domain, even if it is with an existing service provider like WordPress, Wix, or Reclaim Hosting.
  • Reclaim Your Domain - It is important for people to understand that they have control over their accounts and presence in other domains. That they can download their data, access via APIs, and use in services like Zapier, and even delete their presence within any domain--if they can't, they shouldn't be operating there.
  • Safely Operate In Variety of Domains - Even for those of us who operate heavily within our domains, the reality is that we will always have to operate in 3rd party domains, either mandated by work, our schools, government agencies, or just because it is the popular place to be for fun or business. This is where the average citizen needs a basic level of awareness about operating safely and securely in each domain whether it is Facebook, Twitter, or your banking applications while protecting your own best interface.

These are the core elements of domain literacy in my opinion. It may sound like a lot to ask fo the average citizen, but I don't think it is much different than basic security, safety, common sense, and financial literacy required in the real world. You don't walk into shady establishments in the physical world, and hand over your private information to people you don't know or trust--we just need to help make people more of aware of the details of doing this in the digital, as well as our physical worlds.

This definition is a work in progress for me. This is the first time I've tried to define as a simple outline. I will work to keep refining, and hopefully also provide some basic exercises that people might be able to engage in, to strengthen their awareness when it comes to domains. This stuff will become increasingly important in the future. It will determine whether you are well informed during elections, as well as in control of your finances, the value generated by your own work, as well as your privacy and safety in an increasingly volatile online environment.