In recent tech-geek news, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers) announced they are going to start allowing the purchase and registration of "top-level domains."
Top-level domains are the ".com" or ".org" etc. that you see at the end of every root web address. There are many others currently available (.net, .uk, .us, .gov, .me, .biz, etc.). But they've never allowed anyone to create their own and "own" it. Now they are.
What this means is that big organizations and companies can now purchase their own top-level domain for their web presence. So as early as next year you'll start seeing things like home.apple instead of apple.com. Things like that. Having the ".com" web address for a particular thing will no longer make you the cat's pajamas.
Additionally, instead of things like stmarys.org, you will likely start seeing stmarys.catholic, instead. Why? Well, because the Vatican has applied to get the ".catholic" top-level domain. Here are some of my thoughts:
It's a good thing they are purchasing the .catholic domain for the Church. If they didn't, somebody else would. And that would be silly. Especially when that somebody else could be trying to hurt the Church by spreading misinformation.
Top-level domains are going to become a supreme source of brand I.D. on the web. They will indicate that whoever has it is some kind of (if not "the") authority on that particular subject/thing.
Some are concerned with the cost ($185k to apply and then, I believe, $25k per year). But this is not really all that much of an expense for a billion member organization (at all). Especially when we're talking about the primary way (the web) most people (and soon to be everyone) will be getting most of their information about anything. This is peanuts of what their budget should be for communication on the web. Besides, we've been asking the Church to be more of a pioneer when it comes to new communication technologies. Well here they are...jumping in the fray along side Google and Apple and every other major organization who knows what's what in the world to be a part of this big change online. Good for them.
Apparently, use of the ".catholic" domain will be "limited to those with a formal canonical recognition: dioceses, parishes and other territorial church jurisdictions; religious orders and other canonically recognized communities; and Catholic institutions such as universities, schools and hospitals." This is good. And it will help the digital continent reflect the same recognized structure of the Church everywhere. Nothing new there.
Some are concerned about the scandal created by allowing parishes or other groups in the Church to use the ".catholic" domain who are promoting and teaching things in contradiction with Church teaching. The trouble is that this scandal is already occuring. We already have parishes and groups and universities who are formally recognized as Catholic by the Catholic Church who are leading people astray. It is true, though, that this more formal online recognition has the potential to cause deeper scandal. But the scandal is not primarily with the .catholic part. It's with them having formal canonical recognition in the first place while freely contradicting Church teaching...a challenge the Church has dealt with since its beginning.
On the other side of that concern, there are those who worry about the distribution of the ".catholic" domain becoming a kind of witch hunt that seeks to weed out those groups within the Church who are causing scandal. The people most worried about this kind of thing are those who have been getting away with contradicting Church teaching while still calling themselves Catholic for some time now. Of course, the use of the .catholic domain is just one of many reasons that it's getting harder for scandal-causing groups to fly under the radar. The digital age is making it so every bit of scandal is caught on video or recorded on an easily accessible website. And that will make fixing it more and more practical. This isn't at all to advocate for a "police state" Church. It's just to say that the faithful deserve the truth. And the Church is being blessed with more and more ways to make sure they are not being deprived of it and scandalized in the process. The ".catholic" domain may or may not end up being a tool that helps the process.
The ".catholic" domain will not amount to a digital "imprimatur" of sorts or anything like that. But it would help if it communicated some level of ability to trust the website using it. That said, if the ".catholic" domain is to be trusted, then administering it to every group with "formal canonical recognition" in the Church will be a challenge the Church is going to have to grow into. And probably painfully...as they come to terms with the fact that a group having "formal canonical recognition" does not necessarily mean their website can be trusted.
In conclusion, this is an important "branding" and web ID strategy for the Church to embrace. That's it. And it will likely take a long time before we see your everyday parish using it. But once they are, it will at least reflect their formal canonical recognition in the Church. Which is helpful. And I think it will present a good reminder to everyone, both inside and outside of the Church, that we are one, united Church - not just a bunch of little independant churches. Which is a pretty cool thing to celebrate and promote.
Other than that, it's just a web address. It's not going to make a terrible website magically look or work any better at serving the mission of the Church (where the real work needs to be done). But it's fun to see things like this happening at the Vatican level.
What do y'all think?