Meet dotHIV: A Berlin-based social business on a journey to create a social movement



As we surf the World Wide Web, we land on domain names such as .net, .de, .gov and .com. Now there is a new domain name in the registry to choose from: .hiv. It is also the first domain name created that is linked to a social cause.

The creator of the .hiv domain name is the Berlin-based social business called dotHIV. Its mission is to raise awareness and funds to combat HIV/AIDS. It does this by selling companies, organizations and individuals a .hiv domain name for their own website for €150 a year.

Carolin Silbernagl is the cofounder and CEO of dotHIV. According to Silbernagl, it has been increasingly difficult to reach people on the topic of HIV/AIDS and no one has effectively leveraged the internet to communicate the cause globally until now. She wants dotHIV to be a “global approach to a highly global and personal topic”.

Winning the race against AIDS

Silbernagl describes dotHIV back during its founding in 2009 as a crazy idea that she could not get out of her head once her friends told her about it. So, how exactly does this “crazy” idea work?

To simplify dotHIV’s method, Silbernagl compared it to how a typical charity run functions. “The offline model for dotHIV is a charity run, where an organization fundraises for a run. The organization then donates for every mile completed by the runners,” says Silbernagl. dotHIV practices this model with web traffic.

Through the purchase of a .hiv domain name for one year, a company, organization or individual “fundraises” €150 for HIV/AIDS. A micro-donation of 0.1 cents from the fund is then awarded to HIV projects every time a visitor uses a site’s .hiv domain name.

dotHIV passes on at least 70% of the proceeds from each €150 domain fee to various HIV projects. Silbernagl told me that there are around 30 .hiv domains live at the moment. This has amounted to around 12,000 clicks or €12 in micro-donations thus far.

From 30 to Thousands

dotHIV’s success is strongly dependent on scalability. “The first traction is really important. We need to have a certain number of people using .hiv before it becomes interesting for many others to join. We are building a  social movement,” says Silbernagl.

Generating traction also happens to be the team’s biggest challenge. The €150 a year price point to purchase a .hiv domain is a drop in the bucket for many businesses, but it seems the word is still not out yet. Silbernagl says that every mention of Twitter and Facebook is a benefit to dotHIV, but in order to create a social movement, she is aiming much higher. dotHIV is currently seeking an interview on the Today show in the US. And the ultimate goal?

The Impact

When I visited dotHIV’s office, the team had mapped out its planned social impact on a whiteboard. On the righthand side of the board, written in large letters read, “To end AIDS.” To get closer to this goal, dotHIV wants its initiative to allow for better access to treatment, keeping HIV on the global agenda and digitally empowering the HIV movement.

Silbernagl mentioned that dotHIV’s second challenge is finding the right partners. That means listening to HIV organizations and figuring out where their needs are so that dotHIV can target its funding in the right direction.

During our discussion, I learned that not only does dotHIV need to convince companies, organizations and individuals to adopt a .hiv domain name, they also need to convince HIV/AIDS activists that they are truly making a social impact with its model.

“There are a lot of people involved. This means a lot of work, but also a lot of fun and great potential,” says Silbernagl.

Whether or not Silbernagl and her team can spark the social movement they are hoping for will depend on if they can convince a variety of stakeholders of their mission. Silbernagl told me that internally dotHIV is otherwise “all set up with the right team, office space and support.” The social business is backed by its founding partner, the creative agency thjnk from Hamburg, and also has received up to €650,000 in funding.

Now all that is left is to wait and see if .hiv domain names will catch on.

Image Credit: dotHIV