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How the Internet Mobilizes People and Movements

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A woman wanted to help others learn about her favorite animal species and turned to an online encyclopedia: Wikipedia.org. A man sought to meet new people by recreating a popular childhood game online, and he started by posting a classified ad on a website: Craigslist.org. A small group of activists in New York encouraged more than 1,500 cities worldwide to join their movement by creating online hub of conversation: OccupyWallSt.org.

With the Internet, these individuals have brought millions of people together under a shared cause. And although each of their stories feature unique ideas and circumstances, they all share a single commonality -- a .ORG domain.

As the not-for-profit operator of the .ORG domain, we at Public Interest Registry have seen thousands of ordinary people leverage .ORG websites to connect and communicate for the greater good. We have also seen large corporations like Google (Google.org), Nike (NikeFoundation.org), Shell (ShellFoundation.org), and Nestlé (NestleFoundation.org) turn to .ORG to champion their cause. But what we truly find astounding is the millions of Internet users who believed in the credibility of these organizations because of three simple letters.

Over the past 25 years, Internet users have come to learn that they can trust a .ORG address, and that a .ORG domain signals credibility for an organization. Because .ORG is open to individuals, companies and organizations of all kinds, registering for a .ORG domain is less about who you are, and more about what you do. What .ORGs do, most of all, is bring people together online in support of a common cause.

By mobilizing people through online movements, .ORGs have a tremendous impact on our culture, our economy and our world.

Donations for Disaster Relief
This impact can be felt in the immediacy with which relief organizations are now capable of responding to disasters, while involving greater numbers of young and first-time donors. For example, after Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the East Coast, the Robin Hood Relief Fund (RobinHood.org) organized a star-studded benefit concert, 121212 (121212Concert.org), to support the thousands of victims affected by the massive storm. Through ticket sales, phone and web donations, the 121212 concert generated over $50 million in proceeds in support the families and small businesses impacted by the hurricane in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Longstanding organizations like the Robin Hood Relief Fund aren't the only ones making a difference. .ORG also makes it easier to fashion specific responses to humanitarian crises. On March 11, 2011, the South By Southwest Interactive Festival was kicking off in Austin, Texas, while on the other side of the globe, Japan was suffering from a deadly and destructive earthquake and tsunami. In just hours, South By Southwest organizers set up a donation site, SXSW4Japan.org, hoping to raise $10,000 from attendees during the four-day event. Instead, their quick efforts to create a .ORG raised nearly $130,000.

Open Source and Knowledge Sharing
If you're among the 53 percent of Internet users who go to Wikipedia (Wikipedia.org) to look up information, you've experienced firsthand .ORG's power to magnify the efforts of individuals. And if you've visited Wikipedia.org with the Firefox (Mozilla.org) web browser, you've benefited from software developers joining their talents to design applications for the common good. Both Wikipedia and Firefox are fruits of the growing open source movement, which enables people from around the world to work together on a common project and share it with the public -- whether it's putting together the largest repository of human knowledge ever known, or constructing the most popular browser on the web.

Helping people make connections isn't just the work of charitable .ORGs -- it is the very impetus behind one of the most well-known and heavily trafficked commercial sites on the web, Craigslist (Craigslist.org). What began in 1985 as an email listing of local San Francisco events has since grown into a comprehensive set of online classifieds serving more than 700 localities in 70 cities worldwide. It's likely that you or someone you know has found a home through Craigslist -- not to mention a car, household item, article of clothing or antique. Most notably, Craigslist has had a profound impact on people's lives -- and on whole economies -- by helping them find work. Of the 80 million user-created classifieds appearing on Craigslist every month, more than 24 million are job postings.

Mass Communication in Times of Crisis and Collaboration
Using a .ORG address has also proved invaluable to corporations and industry groups in times of crisis, when direct communication with customers is critical. For example, during a recent nationwide pistachio recall, the CAL-PURE co-op of California pistachio growers and the Western Pistachio Association joined forces to set up PistachioRecall.org, to provide consumers with vital information about which brands were and were not subject to the recall.

As we know, mass communication isn't only needed in times of crises but it is also critical during times of civil unrest and political misalignment. The world has recently witnessed this through the Occupy Wall Street (OccupyWallSt.org) movement. The movement is a widespread protest against social and economic inequality, and the perceived influence of corporations on government. Launched in New York City's Zuccotti Park on September 17, 2011, Occupy Wall Street's online presence helped it to spread to more than 95 cities across 82 countries within the first month of its inception.

From encouraging volunteerism to strengthening our civic bonds, from fostering economic growth to improving social equality, the connections forged by millions of .ORGs bring incalculable benefits to our communities, our society and our shared planet.

This idea of empowering communities (through an online platform) is not only consistent with .ORG, but also with the Internet's history of being a collaborative venture for the common good. It's a history that's still being written by millions of .ORGs supporting an array of human endeavors and sharing the deliberate intention of bringing us together. They have proven that using the Internet to mobilize a community can simply start with choosing the right web domain.

For more on some of the .ORG stories mentioned in this piece, check out the Public Interest Registry's "The Digital Citizen" video.