Will Hashtags Take Over the Internet?
Posted by Jennifer Wolfe on 25th February 2015 in ClickZ

A look at what new domain names and hashtags have in common.

Check out your Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook feed; flip through a magazine or watch a commercial on television. You’ll likely find them filled with hashtags about what we like, what we want, what we think, or even just where we are: #onaplane or #springbreak2015. We use hashtags now to make sense of our digital world and help us find topics or associate with the latest trends in our social spheres. We use hashtags for the mundane, like #eatingicecream, to create movements like #selfie, or to provoke a response like #breaktheinternet. Newscasters use hashtags to drive conversations about their stories. Celebrities use hashtags to drive followers and brand themselves and their products.

Hashtags have permeated social media. Who would dare post a tweet or a picture without the corresponding series of hashtags? In any social media, we search by hashtag, and thus it’s clear to see a new search language is emerging: one evolving and self-sustaining by all of us in our digital worlds.

Will Hashtags Replace Domain Names and Browsers?

So the question looms, will hashtags take over the Internet? Many think the domain name space is dead in favor of search, user experience, apps, and social networks, mostly driven by hashtags. But I find when I talk to Millennials or even the next generation like my 12-year-old son, they still use a browser and search actual websites. Despite the fact that they have grown up in a world where we can all access the Internet in many different ways, depending upon where we are, what we are doing, and what device we are using, they still go to browsers for specific functions. The website is no longer the center of our digital universe, but it’s still an important part of it.

If you want to really research something, for example a trip you plan to take or for a paper you are writing, you are more likely to use a browser. If you’re not sure what you want yet or want to dig deeper into possibilities, you will likely turn to a browser to search and find what you want. And as much as apps create an easy portal, we can only manage so many apps on our devices before we reach a point of diminishing return. Once we reach that point, we need a browser or some way to manage new things we want on the Internet. You may or may not agree that browsers will still be part of the digital ecosystem in the future. But for now, let’s assume they will continue to be a part of our digital experience. And assume that some new way of browsing is on the horizon. Let’s look at how the Millennials or Gen Z might use browsers and domain names in the future of the Internet.

The Hashtag Approach to Domain Names Matches Up to New Domains

I take you back to hashtags. For Millennials, this has become their navigation tool, a self-selected navigation tool. Rather than just rely on search algorithms to do this for them, they have created their own algorithm by sorting through what’s popular and what catches virally, driving their own view of search.

Extrapolate this out to the browser experience. This would mean that domain names or the naming convention of websites would need to be more fluid, using natural language with the ability to shift and change as the trends of the day change. There would have to be a lot of options in the domain name space for that to work.

This brings me to an important point. No one ever includes the phrase .COM in a hashtag – why? Because .COM has no meaning. It became the default extension to the website or browser experience in the 1990s and has remained top dog for 20 years. Once the .COM space became completely saturated with anyone and everyone, good guys and bad guys, it had no meaning. It once meant commerce as in the Department of Commerce, which created the .COM space 20 years ago. But as of today, it has absolutely no meaning. This is why it doesn’t show up in hashtags and in the future won’t be helpful as a domain name.

The Future of Domain Names? – Check What’s #Trending

New generic top-level domains or (gTLDs) are categorizing the browser or domain name experience in self-selected ways, much like hashtags. Not every website should be in .COM. Not every website is about commerce. Some are about changing your perception and maybe .LIFE or .SOLUTIONS makes more sense. Some are about specific topics like .DOG or .BIKE. Think of all of these very interesting new domain name possibilities and how they are very much like hashtags: .LOL, .CYOU, .LOVE, .STYLE, .YACHTS, .RECIPES, .HELP or .MOM – these can all make a strong root to hashtag campaigns that translate into digital addresses or landing pages to extend the messaging into the browser experience. There will be millions of possibilities and possibly more in the future to create your own self-selected digital experience in the 900+ new gTLDs that enter the Internet landscape over the next few years.

If you are a dentist, it might be much more hashtag-like to be SMILE.TODAY or BEAUTIFUL.SMILE or any number of variations that relate to how people think and talk now in the digital world. The new domains create hashtag-like possibilities rather than just throwing everything into one bucket – it does create more choice – more opportunity. The same kind that has emerged in an age of hashtags.

So many want to dismiss the gTLD movement, but the signals that this is where the next generation is headed in their approach to digital life are all around us in digital media. It’s not hard to imagine 10 years from now when a 12-year old reading about the history of the Internet may say: “Mom, why was everything in .com?, that doesn’t even make sense.” #futureoftheinternet.