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Mobilizing the Internet Community for Coronavirus Pandemic Communications

The Coronavirus pandemic has profound impact on every aspect of every person’s life. We all have turned to the Internet to stay informed on this one subject. Unfortunately, the Internet community is not equipped to organize the Internet around one subject.

Governments and businesses are reorganizing their websites daily to make new paths to new coronavirus information on many topics suitable for their many audiences. As everyone is reorganizing their websites, search engines are struggling to keep their search indexes current with relevant, authoritative information and weed out illicit links. During this pandemic, people need authoritative information from many sources on a wide range of topics relevant to their many settings and situations. With coordination, the Internet community can help people gather authoritative information on this one subject at a speed, scale, and scope suitable for the crisis. We can do that by coordinating the use of the DNS the way it was designed but isn’t being used.

The Domain Name System (DNS) Already Provides Trust And Can Do More

We rely on domain names to verify the authority and trust of information within websites, but the DNS is capable of so much more. Every domain owner has control of a vast, unallocated number of subdomains that could be used support discovery—if meaningfully allocated.

Organizations are building navigation structures within their websites to serve coronavirus information to their target audience segments using a variety of web publishing tools. The variety of editorial styles, publishing tools and perspectives mean every web site is organized and accessed differently and constantly changing as the situation develops.

With coordination of subdomains, the DNS (which already assures trust) can be a path for discovery of trusted crisis communications for targeted segments across internet domains.

There Are Simple Communication Patterns in the Chaos

We surveyed coronavirus pandemic information looking for communication patterns on the websites of the 56 states and territories as well as several departments, agencies and companies. All these websites were organized differently with varying quality of content, but three communication patterns emerged.

  1. Setting – People need information from many authorities to deal with the settings they will encounter personally; home, work, health care, shopping, assisted living, school, church community, etc.
  2. Situation – People need information from many authorities to address the situations they are in; sick, caring for the sick, health care provider, employer, employee, willing volunteer, etc.
  3. Status – People need to know where everything stands in these settings and situations; cases in their area, what restrictions remain in place, what is open/closed, how to sign up for updates, plans for returning to normal, etc.

From the survey results we compiled a recommendation for organizing Coronavirus information for audience segments following those communication patterns. We have published our recommendations in a Coronavirus Navigation Model and welcome comments. We aren’t suggesting the IT department drive a new communication model or revision of every web site. We hope that, at least it gives a streamlined navigation template and a checklist for Web and communications professionals organizing coronavirus communications across the Web. At best, we hope that domain owners implement the navigation structure in their subdomains and register those in a DNS-based index we are developing for authoritative resources.

The scale of the communication problem demands Internet-Scale Coordination

This pandemic crisis affects everyone, but differently depending on the situations and settings they live in. The number of overlapping jurisdictions and authorities over many settings and conditions nationwide is enormous. The Federal government has 15 departments and hundreds of agencies, board councils and offices. The 56 states and territories have hundreds more departments, agencies, boards, councils and offices. Within the states, there are 3,262 county governments and many thousands of more community governments. Each level of government has a jurisdiction and a role. Further, there are hundreds of thousands of care facilities and charitable organizations joined in the fight. There are thousands of universities, colleges and schools. There are millions of businesses, some with nationwide footprint, others serving small communities—all trying to comply with daily changes in regulations from a patchwork of jurisdictions.

These millions of organizations and their overlapping roles create an overwhelmingly complex coronavirus communications challenge. 
For example:

  • The CDC is the national authority for the latest information about the coronavirus and public health practices.
  • The FDA is the national authority for food and drug safety.
  • Local health departments are the regional authorities for local response for both health and food safety.
  • Hospitals are authorities on managing public access to care at their own facilities.
  • Businesses and community organizations must operate safely and comply with the latest guidance of local public health authorities yet have sole authority to manage employee and customer/patient/client relationships.

These millions of organizations all have some role in the missions of assuring public health, public safety, economic security and national security. They all share the goals of stopping the spread of the virus, maintaining essential services, and returning to normal. They all are scrambling to keep their audience segments informed through their websites while complying with external guidance. The situation is changing daily. Our understanding of the Coronavirus changes, policies, laws and plans change, content changes, websites are reorganized, links to authoritative resources break. Search tools cannot provide current, accurate, authoritative information in every jurisdiction, situation or setting.

The Internet community can play a coordinating role. Only the DNS, which is built into every one of these millions of communications streams and already provides the trust layer, is capable of coordinating communications at this scale and at the speed required.

By Thomas Bascom, Principal

Tom is a Principle with Internet Names for Discovery and Interoperability Standards Corporation, a nonprofit founded to coordinate meaningful internet identities that will turn the Internet into the global connection management system it was meant to be.

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