What is a domain…huh?

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Last weekend (Dec. 2nd – 4th) I attended WordCamp US in Philadelphia as a sponsor of the event for .blog. Our excitement was palpable. Not only was this our first event since launching .blog to the general public on November 21st, it was also an introduction to a sophisticated audience familiar with blogging and domains.

After carefully setting up our booth and strategically placing our cool swag where attendee engagement would be highest, it was time to get to work. The doors opened and people rolled in, not as a tsunami but more like a gentle wave of enthusiastic attendees.

As we engaged, the first question from our wide-eyed guests peering at our freshly displayed backdrop was, “so, what is .blog?”

To many people from the domains industry it is a simple question with a simple answer. Everybody knows what a domain extension is, right? Ok, maybe not, but without getting technical, surely everybody knows a domain is a unique web address, right?

To test my theories and benchmark end-user knowledge of new TLDs, the new .blog domain extension, and domains in general, I conducted experiments throughout the two-day event by responding differently to the question, “so, what is .blog?”

I started with answers like “it’s a new domain extension” or “it’s a top-level domain” or “have you heard of .club and .online?” Resoundingly, the common answer was “huh?” or “no”, followed by the deer-in-the-headlights effect or the I-see-a-friend-I-must-go-now response. I followed up with statements like “you know that ‘thing’ you type into your browser bar to get to a specific website? Well, that is a web address and it does not have to end with dot com.” At this point I could see the wheels turning.

Then I tested something I recently read regarding habits and behaviour. I paired .blog with something familiar (.com) accompanied by examples. I said, “so you know youtube dot com?”  They of course did. I followed it with “well, that could instead be youtube dot blog.” The eureka moment! The lights went on, followed by ear-to-ear grins. I then followed it up with “.blog is like .com but it is targeted to bloggers, corporate blogs and all content creators.” This is when I received the all approving head nods.

Throughout the event, I discovered something very surprising…when asking an audience ‘what a domain is’, no matter how highly technical and sophisticated they are, unless they work directly with domains most people cannot accurately define them. Many people describe a domain as a website or they feel .com by itself is a domain. Specifically for .blog, many people think it is a platform for blogging. And overwhelmingly surprising, not many people have heard of new TLDs in general.

Generally speaking, if a WordCamp audience has never heard of new TLDs or are not quite clear what a domain is, then as an industry two things needs to happen. First, marketers must learn how to communicate with targeted end users far less technical than any WordCamp attendee. Second, education of domains/web address and new TLDs has a long way to go, but it is imperative that we get started right away.

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