The dot-coms and dot-nets of the world have a new, more charitable neighbor to welcome online.
A new initiative called dotHIV officially launched Tuesday with plans to sell .HIV domain names to Web creators as part of a fundraising effort to fight and prevent HIV and AIDS. Companies and individuals can purchase .HIV domain names for $179, and a small donation will be made to an HIV- or AIDS-related charity each time a Web user visits the site.
Money raised from the domain sales is pooled and then redistributed to the charities, says Carolin Silbernagl, CEO of the .HIV Initiative, the nonprofit behind the push. The domains, which Silbernagl refers to as “digital red ribbons” in honor of the international symbol for the HIV virus, are free for HIV organization and nonprofits.
The idea for the dotHIV Initiative was born on the back of a napkin in 2011. Silbernagl’s co-founder and longtime friend Philipp Kafkoulas was visiting Silbernagl and her husband in Berlin when the idea materialized over vodka at a nearby bar. Silbernagl spent three sleepless nights thinking about little else before realizing she needed to be involved. But executing the idea was a far greater challenge than anticipated.
Silbernagl spent roughly $300,000 simply completing and submitting the domain registration with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Nearly two-thirds of the money was used for the registration fee, she says, and the total process took more than two years before .HIV was finally approved. “The application,” she said, “is a monster.”
With the legalese behind her, Silbernagl is now focused on selling the domains through third-party marketplaces like GoDaddy. More than 10,000 .HIV domains were pre-registered, although those agreements weren’t binding, she says. Included in that batch were big name companies like Amazon, LinkedIn and Instagram.
Silbernagl doesn’t expect these companies to include specific HIV or AIDS-related content on their .HIV page, but instead expects most will simply redirect the domain to their standard .com pages, which still helps out her cause. “The Internet user gets a second door to the same Web content but it’s actually cooler because [of our] donation program,” she said.
The donations are small — $0.001 per click — but go toward causes selected by Silbernagl and the Initiative. The first organization slated to receive funds will be WE-ACTx for HOPE, a group fighting HIV and AIDS in Rwanda. Next on the list is the Sero Project, an organization focused on “ending inappropriate criminal prosecutions of people with HIV.” Across the globe, more than 35 million people are living with HIV, according to the World Health Organization.
In the future, Silbernagl plans to allow Internet users to vote to determine where the charitable funds go.
Silbernagl was never involved with HIV- or AIDS-specific work before, but says she became an activist “very, very quickly” once she decided to get involved. She hopes others have a similar experience when they realize their involvement can be as simple as three short keystrokes.
“No one on this earth has to die of AIDS anymore, and people still do,” she said. “We really can put an end to this epidemic.”