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Let’s be clear on what a domain is

by Daniela Kirchner

Being clear and precise is a main advantage of coding language. Compared to the clarity we lack in our spoken everyday language. It is very hard to use the precise words and expressions to make them understood in the same way it was meant.

I am a Digital Strategist and one of my jobs is translating. Not literally, but as I want to make sure that everyone in a team shares the same ambition, I heavily push for a shared understanding.

Recently we were talking about domains. I recognised that different things were mixed up: platform, URL and field of expertise.

If you look on Wikipedia, you’ll find various disciplines that make use of the term domain.In information technology there are several subterms such as application domain, programming domain or network domain. And of course, the topic goes beyond. Domain-driven design, for instance, is worth its own examination.

This broad field raises the question of if there is a common origin for the term itself. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the late Middle English “Domain” stems from the French “domaine” of Old French “demeine” for “belonging to a lord”.

This proves especially interesting as the word itself is a contronym: “domain” combines a meaning of both relatedness and separation in one.

Therefore, communicating a clear meaning of “domain” is imperative. I push for this definition: A domain is a distinct subset that specifies a particular field and relates to a certain owner.

However, The Oxford Dictionary’s definition is important for providing a baseline understanding for our field: domain is “a distinct subset of the internet with addresses sharing a common suffix or under the control of a particular organization or individual”.

The definition is very important. We need to be aware of it when we change the information architecture, adjust the hosting, compile backends, migrate URLs or define touchpoint strategies.

What do you observe when people talk about domains?
What are the fallacies you see?
Which other terms require clarification?

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