Are You a .Com or .Org? Will You Be a .Healthcare? .Health? .Heart? .Cancer?

Most of us in healthcare have had our domain names for our hospital and clinic websites for many years now and, other than making sure the renewal bill gets paid, there’s not much more to consider. On occasion, we may implement a special campaign or market a new service in a way that warrants its own domain name but, for most of us, the scurry for domain names ended years ago.

The name game is about to change in January 2012. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted last June to offer a new generic top-level domain program (gTLD).  A generic top-level domain is the part of the URL that is to the right of the dot–it’s the “org” or the “com.”

The new gTLD program

In January, when the new gTLD program begins, any word can become a gTLD if the company or organization meets certain criteria. That means  .health, .heart, .healthcare, .cancer, .kidney  could all become gTLDs.

This is no small change. An Associated Press article on the new program wrote, “The organization that oversees the Internet address system is preparing to open the floodgates to a nearly limitless selection of new website suffixes, including ones in Arabic, Chinese and other scripts. That could usher in the most sweeping transformation of the Domain Name System since its creation in the 1980s.”

The criteria organizations must meet

Judy Shapiro, chief brand strategist at CloudLinux, wrote a helpful article explaining the new program, including the criteria organizations must meet to register a gTLD. According to Shapiro: “…the doors will be thrown wide open and virtually any word can become a gTLD if the company or organization meets certain criteria:

  • They can pony up the hefty application fee ($185,000)
  • They can prove they can afford to run a gTLD year after year
  • They can justify why they should own a particular word as a gTLD – e.g. a travel company is unlikely to be successful at justifying buying ‘.Apple’ as a gTLD but they can justify buying ‘.adventure.’”

So the scramble begins. Shapiro foresees a scenario similar to the domain name acquisition era. She wrote, “If you’re at a Fortune 300 company, it is likely your IT/ legal department will advise you to purchase multiple (possibly a dozen) gTLDs.”

Many uncertainties

This new program poses many uncertainties for organizations that can’t afford to register health-related gTLDs.  Who will control them? What opportunities will the registrant owners provide for others in related industries to utilize them? At what cost?

A greater concern to those of us in healthcare is the impact on our patients. We’ve all read the studies indicating a rise in the number of consumers who seek healthcare information via the Internet; and we expect those numbers to continue to increase.  Consumers are already tasked with wading through massive amounts of information on the Internet and discerning which sources are both current and credible.

An immediate boost of credibility

In a previous blog post, I advocated for hospitals to become more involved in aggregating and creating healthcare news outlets for their patients. People who are suffering or have loved ones who are suffering are vulnerable to hopeful information, even information with little medical validity.

Having a .health, .heart, .kidney, .cancer or other health-related gTLD could give an immediate boost of credibility to sites that may not deserve it. The new gTLD program adds another consideration, and complication, for consumers seeking reliable health news and information.

I’m bracing for the new year to see how this program unfolds, and will watch with great interest to see who scoops up the .health, .heart, .kidney, .healthcare, .cancer gTLDs. I’d love to hear what you think about this new program, and your suggestions for how those of us in healthcare can prepare for this changing Internet landscape.

How we help

Hive Strategies helps hospitals engage patients through social media. We don’t manage social media. Instead, we help hospitals develop an effective social media strategy and mentor them through the implementation process. Read about our services. Start a conversation. Email us or call us at 503-472-5512.

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