2012-06-12 Vatican RadioInternet evangelisation took another step forward on Wednesday as the Vatican announced it has applied for the top level domain name ‘dot catholic’ in an effort to authenticate all websites using that name. The Catholic Church is among an estimated two thousand applicants to ICANN, the California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which recently decided to open up to the use of new generic top level domain names, as the letters after the dot are technically known.
The applications may take a year or more to process and discussions are still underway in the Vatican as to exactly which organisations and institutions can use the ‘dot catholic’ name. But for internet users, often overwhelmed by the variety of supposedly Catholic sites in cyberspace, this move will provide a more instantly visible way of validating the authenticity of Catholic material online.
So when will this come into effect? How much is it going to cost? And how can you apply to become a ‘dot catholic’ site? Philippa Hitchen put those questions to Mgr Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, who has been following the Vatican’s application process….
We’ve applied to purchase the top-level domain named ‘dot catholic’. Top level domain names are that end of the string of a web address. Traditionally the generic ones were ‘dot com’, ‘dot net’, ‘dot org’ and then you had geographic dot level domain names. Such as ‘dot va’, ‘dot ie’ for Ireland, ‘dot uk’ for Britain. For some time, the people who, in a sense coordinate the international group called ICANN, a non governmental organization based in California, has been looking at the possibility of a liberalization of domain names. Allowing for people to create top level domain names, the end of the address in any string of letters that they want. And this has been debated for some time as to whether it would help, whether it would be useful. Obviously there are commercial companies that would be very interested, one can think of big commercial well-known names, to have a possibility of being able to brand all their websites with their own name.
For instant recognition?
For instant recognition, it allows for easy recognition in the digital space. And I suppose as people have become more aware of the importance of the digital space, commercially but also politically, and also for communications and for us also, for our evangelization and for our own communication of the Church’s message, people have become aware that this digital space is important. And we would have seen this as an opportunity to look at the possibility of establishing ever more effectively the Church’s presence in the digital arena. So what we’ve put together is an application to purchase the top-level domain name ‘dot catholic’, in English or Latin characters, but also in Chinese characters, in Arabic characters and in Cyrillic characters. And our aim is therefore to take the vast presence of the Catholic Church that already exists on the web, so we have a huge number of communities and institutions who have a very strong web presence and who are representing the Church very effectively in the digital arena, allowing us in a sense to bring more structure, and more coordination to that web presence and then particularly it allows us to authenticate the catholic presence in the web space.
So how will this work in practical terms? How will somebody apply to use this ‘dot catholic’?
Essentially our decision is to issue this ‘dot catholic’ to recognized institutions of the Catholic Church. For the purpose of the application, we said the Catholic Church is a community. And again our attention here is we obviously have to talk in institutional terms for ICANN. The church is, of course, much more than an institution, it is a spiritual reality. But for this purpose, we focused more on the institutional dimensions that people who don’t come from the faith could recognize. And we said the Church is a community consisting of varying communities and our idea is that those communities that make up the Church will be able to apply to have this ‘dot catholic’ web address as a way of authenticating their presence in the web space. We thought of three main categories of communities, what we call territorial communities, dioceses, then what we called membership-based communities, which are the religious orders and institutions of consecrated life and then finally communities that are based around specific activities, such as education, hospitals, universities, or justice and peace groups who are recognized catholic communities and our hope is, with time, that the users of the internet, if they find a website ending in ‘dot catholic’, they will know that the institution who has organized that website, who owns the website is an institution that is approved of by the Catholic Church. And that therefore the content they find there is dependable and reliable and they can be certain that it’s coming from a genuinely Catholic source.
It will be your Pontifical Council that is organizing these registrations under the ‘dot catholic’name?
It will be the Pontifical Council who will be coordinating this. Obviously the Council is a small enough reality, and will be doing this in conjunction with the larger bishops’ conferences to begin with, but our ultimate aim is of course to roll this out globally. And one of the things that we see as an advantage is that it allows us as a Council – we have a lot of contact going on all the time with various people who are active in the area of communications globally, we are already in touch with them, and one of the things that many people have said to us is “ we need some way of authenticating our presence, so if people go on a website they can know is it Catholic or is it not.” We were thinking about that for a while, would there be a trade-marking system or would there be some other system? And this way offers to us a solution that could help us enormously to be able to replicate on line, replicate in the digital space, the kind of structures we have already in canon law and that we know again in our day to day life of the Church.
A question on many peoples’ minds will be how much does this all cost?
The initial costs are the costs of the application and we’ve made four applications. We’ve applied to buy this in the Latin string, Chinese, Arabic and Cyrillic. And each application costs 185,000 dollars. That’s essentially to meet the administrative costs of ICANN who have to proceed then to process the application and see that it meets all their technical requirements. Is it well thought through technically so that it won’t upset the stability of the web space? Is it well thought through in terms of its community belonging, is it something that would really benefit web users? And that’s the process we’re in. If we’re successful in that process, then they give us for a certain amount of time the exclusive use of that web address. There are no further fees involved at that stage. Obviously there will be administrative costs involved. But to some extent, if we can reach out and engage the larger Catholic community, the item cost per individual user will probably be quite low. And again, we haven’t fully developed our commercial thinking on this, but one of our ideas would be obviously we would ask people who are better financially positioned than others to maybe supplement and support the activities of others. So for the Council it’s also excitement as it gives us another reason to reach out to the community of Catholic communicators globally. We are now saying ‘we’ve something we think might be of use to you, that might be of help to you’, it gets us engaged with people who are already active in that field and it allows us to maybe put them in contact with other people, so that we can use this not just as a technical project, or not simply of authenticating the Catholic presence, but of creating a community on line that supports and helps and does the thing that the Church does best.
Finally, when does this go into effect?
The process is today, Wednesday the 13th,we’re seeing for the first time the numbers of people who have applied, it’s clear that the ICANN process can only take a certain number of those at a time, so we’re talking about batching. They will take 500 or so of the approximately 2,000 applications and deal with them first. If we’re in that first batch, and we don’t know who will be or not, then you’re probably talking about something that might be ready to roll out a year from now. But there’s a lot of talking and thinking to be done in the meantime. But that suits us because we want to engage as fully as we can all the stakeholders who will be part of this project.