Souvenirs.nyc and Google’s Secret Sauce

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SEO Logos imagesJackson Hts., New York, June 8, 2015 – Imagine if Google gave preference in its search results to websites using .nyc domain names. So that whenever someone looked to buy bananas, batteries, beefsteak, bikes, boats, booze, bras, broaches, or whatever – if a website using a .nyc domain name was selling it, and other things being equal, the .nyc site would show higher on Google’s search results page. Cowabunga!

That would be a giant boon to the city’s businesses and economy. A mad rush to get .nyc domain names would follow, by speculators and by existing businesses looking to convert from their .com’s to the new hot TLD.

On Tuesday evening, June 9, 6:15 PM, the .NYC Domain Meetup (see details) is to examine “souvenirs.nyc” and the sterling placement it receives from Google search. Depending on the precise search, souvenirs.nyc shows up 3rd or 4th in Google’s listings; a remarkable result considering it was only activated several weeks ago. Art Mal, its owner and the organizer of the .NYC Domains, will explain how he achieved these results. We’re all hoping one factor is a change to Google’s search algorithm, that perhaps they’ve given preference for .nyc sites in response to our strict nexus and other policies.

With few souvenirs available for sale on the site, we suspect that Art’s a SEO wizard, but… we’ve long advised that one reason a city should consider operating a TLD is the boost a trusted TLD can have on a search engine’s ranking of its resources. If search engines consider your TLD “trusted”, like the .gov and .edu TLDs, the economic benefits would be huge. (We’ve a wiki page on the trusted city here.)

Trust of this sort arises from two factors: restricted entry and ongoing oversight. To buy a .nyc name one needs to prove city residence, so we’re +1 on the restricted access. Oversight is trickier. Both .gov and .edu have ongoing oversight: If you’ve a complaint about sites on either TLD, there’s a reasonable prospect of recourse. We’ve not heard of any city plans to provide such oversight, but the capacity exists and we’re hoping we missed a press release.

We’ll be looking for evidence of trust at the souvenirs.nyc meeting and will report our findings here.

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FOILing the WHOIS Data for the .nyc TLD

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FOIL logoJackson Hts., New York, June 1, 2015 – A few of months back, when preparing our 6 month review of the .nyc TLD’s operation – see here, we grew curious about who had purchased the initial 75,000 .nyc domain names: Was this new resource being allocated in an equitable manner? For example, we wondered if the name purchasers were spread evenly over the city or concentrated in a particular neighborhood or borough. And if they were from a particular social or economic strata.

After considering the options for assessing the situation we concluded that the most effective way to envision the situation would be to plot the home addresses of registrants (aka owners) of .nyc domain names on a map. We’d seen something similar done with housing foreclosures resulting from the 2009 financial crisis. So we requested the WHOIS data from the city.

Over a 10 week period we exchanged a number of emails with city officials requesting the WHOIS data, which details who owns the .nyc domain names. After several back and forths with the city’s data keepers we concluded that it was unlikely that the data would be provided, and on May 27 we filed a data request under the NYS Freedom Of Information Law. We’ll keep you posted.

  • Update #1 – On June 5 I received acknowledgement that DoITT had received the FOIL request. As the law states that a response should have been received within 5 business days, we’re facing a lag of a few days. Also, the notification did not provide an estimated date when we might expect to receive the requested data, as required by FOIL. We’re following up.
  • Update #2 – Clarification resulted in the following: “Thank you for your email. If possible, DoITT will grant or deny your request by July 6, 2015, which marks the 20th business day from the date of acknowledgement. I am looking to locate the records that you have requested. At this time, I am unsure as to whether DoITT maintains WHOIS data of registrants of .nyc domain names.” While this seem outside the guidelines, activities here make it acceptable.
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Toward Effective Governance Of The .nyc TLD

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city hall questionJackson Hts., New York, April 29, 2015 – While there are no published documents describing governance of  the .nyc TLD, it’s our understanding that oversight is shared by representatives from the Department of Information and Telecom Technology, the Economic Development Corporation, the Office of Innovation and Technology, with the Department of Law advising. It’s a fluid process outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with the contractor implementing consensus decisions. But who does what and the existence (or not) of channels for public engagement remains unclear.

Having emerged from the city’s democratic governance structure, we acknowledge the MOU as legitimate by traditional standards. However, considering the plethora of roles our city’s TLD will play, we believe additional channels for public engagement are essential – especially in these early days of .nyc’s development. Before offering our suggestions on an improved governance structure, we’d like to present some thoughts on the context in which .nyc exists.

  • Our City Charter was approved in 1987, before the Internet as we know it existed. It provides little guidance for oversight of .nyc or other Net resources.
  • New York City is among the first to develop a city specific-TLD and is ploughing virgin pastures with no experience among other global cities to draw upon.
  • Experience and expertise for operating city TLDs is emerging on a daily basis here and in the 30 other global cities developing their own TLDs.
  • The Internet will become an increasingly vital part of our city’s social and economic health in the coming years. Internet access, training, and our domain names must be managed with utmost care.
  • This is the Internet, it’s 2015, and people – especially our younger population – expect oversight to be open, transparent, and accountable.
  • There is some resistance to the development of Internet resources such as TLDs being managed in the public interest.

Issues

With minimal experience to draw upon, the scope and scale of issues requiring oversight remains an unknown. User experiences will set the oversight agenda over the next few years, however, questions such as the following will certainly need attention.

bottom-line

  • How much should it cost to buy a .nyc domain name?
  • Should prices be uniform for businesses, nonprofits, individuals, etc., or should there be a pricing structure that encourages not-for-profit activity in this area?
  • Is the .nyc TLD infrastructure worthy of investment?
  • Must the .nyc TLD be self sufficient?

ownership rights

  • Should some of the 3,000 premium names (news.nyc, hotels.nyc, pizza.nyc, etc.) be set aside for distribution by a means other than a high bid auction?
  • Should the encouragement of innovative proposals be given preference in making premium domain name allocation decisions?
  • Which premium names should have public interest commitments attached to their development rights?
  • What are these public interest requirements?
  • Who sets and approves them?
  • What should be the compliance mechanisms?

efficiency

  • Does the city stand behind its TLD?
  • Where does one go to make a complaint about a service or product sold by a site using a .nyc domain name?
  • Who assures that complaints are addressed?
  • What monitoring of user registration (nexus) and activation is in place and planned?
  • Should the requirements of INTRO. 683-2015, setting accessibility standards for city government operated websites, be required for all .nyc sites?

the public commons

  • How are civicly important domain names to be identified?
  • What usage level constitutes effective use of a civicly important domain name?
  • How can the city promote effective use of civicly important domain names?
  • What process should be followed to reclaim impotent civicly important domain names?
  • Should the city invest in templates to facilitate developing websites for categories of domain names, for example, the dotNeighborhoods?

policy

  • What are the linkages between the city’s universal broadband policy, education, the public access channels, and domain names?
  • How can mom and pop businesses be encouraged to utilize .nyc domain names (and the Internet)?
  • Should individual domain name registrants be able to keep their home addresses private through some type of proxy service?
  • What pricing, training, and allocation policies will facilitate the equitable distribution of .nyc domain names?

education

  • What programs should be used to educate New Yorkers about the utility and structure of the .nyc TLD?
  • What awareness and training programs can encourage civil society to better utilize the web?
  • How can we encourage a culture that proudly presents and protects our city’s internet resources?

optimization

  • Would effective privacy and security features entice more New Yorkers to use our city’s TLD?
  • Should we explore “digital city” relations with other TLD cities?
  • Should the city support a “green” policy that encourages .nyc websites to use power efficient systems?
  • Should access to .nyc sites be sped up by requiring that DNS servers be housed in the city?
  • What levels of transparency access should there be to DNS usage data?

It’s worth reiterating that the .nyc domain was only activated in late 2014, and the range of issues to be faced is only emerging. It’s reasonable to assume that the experiences of city dwellers here, and in 30 other cities just activating their TLDs, will help answer these and other questions that arise.

But today there are no dedicated channels for communicating with city hall about our TLD, nor for learning from the experiences of the other global cities developing their TLDs. Today’s communications options are limited, with an email to the mayor or a council member being perhaps the most effective.

Recommendations

City-TLD governance is a complex process requiring a framework, operating model, and infrastructure to enable effective oversight and relationships between management and users.

With 75,000 domain names sold and new websites being activated every day, we need engagement efforts and communication channels that facilitate sharing between residents and oversight entities. We need these here in the city and we need channels to share issues and best practices with the 30 other cities developing their TLDs.

The experts on our city’s TLD are the 8,200,000 residents who are purchasing the domain names, making websites, and accessing them. It’s time we empower them to shape our city’s TLD. To do so City Hall should initiate short and long term governance efforts.

Long Term – Looking back to 2001 and the Internet Empowerment Resolution that first called for our city to acquire .nyc, Queens Community Board 3’s recommendation was that the Commission on Public information and Communication (COPIC) be .nyc’s oversight entity. That still sounds like a reasonable approach.

But COPIC needs funding, staffing, and a legislative fix. The Public Advocate, Trish James, has applied for funding, with staffing to follow.

The legislative fix should institute a more comprehensive purview of the digital city, taking into account the need for universal access, processes and programs to facilitate the Internet’s effective use, the role (cable’s) public access channels should play in these cord-cutting times, as well as the oversight of domain names. Additional public members should be placed on COPIC, selected by individual owners of .nyc domain names.

The digital revolution’s impact on all aspect of city government’s operation should be reflected in .nyc’s planning and development. With the similarities of domain names to real estate, we see value in the City Planning Commission participating in COPIC reviews. Lessons from its ULURP and other public participation processes would aide in exploring appropriate uses for our city’s digital land. Additionally, CUNY and our other universities should have a say in the review processes.

Short Term – The .NYC Community Advisory Board should be reconstituted. This interim body was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg and strengthened by Mayor de Blasio. But it’s charter ended last December 31 and no replacement has emerged.

  • The .NYC Community Advisory Board had a knowledgeable and active core membership that should be reappointed.
  • It should be supported with staff and resources to facilitate broad public engagement.
  • The Board’s operation should be open and transparent with channels enabling contributions by the public, small businesses, and civil society.
  • Channels should be established with other TLD cities experiencing the same challenging birth to identify common issues and best practices.

To a far greater degree than the global Internet, New York’s Internet is a tangible resource, with its impact seen and felt as we move through the city. Let’s assure that tools to enable our residents to effectively govern this new force are made available now and for the long term.

In a future post we’ll take a look at the technology and relationships that enable the Internet’s global reach and see where and how the city might interact there.

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Innovation, Bureaucracies & New Haven

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velibe biles paris Jackson Hts., New York, April 13, 2015 – I attended the ICANN’s June 2008 board of directors meeting in Paris which passed the fundamental resolution for its New TLD Program.

Now, 7 years later, with New York City actively issuing domain names, I’ve come to wonder why it’s not functioning as I’d imagined. A recent thought on that might be worth civic or scholarly consideration and is presented here.

Let me first note that the mismatch between dream and reality is not for lack of interest or competence within the bureaucracy. My encounters with the city administration have uniformly been with highly intelligent and caring people.

The challenge originates with the lack of preparation for the idea’s arrival. With a bureaucracy crafted from hundreds of years of bad experiences, city government is a multi-layered, lumbering, behemoth. And sometimes a new idea is thrust upon it without proper awareness as to its appropriate location. In the instance of the .nyc TLD, we advocated for its being part of the city planning department. But responsibility seems to be scattered through several departments.

While there’s a booster club that likes to say New York City’s government is innovative, we see it being the “seal of approval” city. Generally, when New York adopts a new process or service, it’s been thoroughly vetted elsewhere, e.g., Paris’ Velibe paving a path for Citibike. The city’s philosophy in Broadway-speak might be expressed as “Work out the kinks in New Haven” (ref.). With New York among the first cities to adopt a TLD, that New Haven stop was skipped, and we’re playing the role and price of pioneer. (Commons image courtesy of Wikimedia.)

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Character Beacons

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Jackson Hts., New York, April 9, 2015 – An innovative idea was brought to our attention last year by a civicly spirited domain investor, Kw Boswell. Kw’s suggestion was that the 26 single character .nyc domain names – a.nyc, b.nyc, c.nyc, all the way to z.nyc – be developed in a coordinated manner. The utility of the idea took a few months to sink in, but it did and we’d like to thank Kw and offer a first showing.

a-z beacon 1

Recently, with these 26 premium names heading to auction, via 26 independent auctions, we decided to add some flesh to the innovative idea and present it for comparison with the current plan. Reflecting our early analysis, we named the current plan Willy-Nilly and the new one, the Beacon Project.

Looking first at the likely results of Willy-Nilly auctions, we’d expect each name to be programmed to serve an entirely different goal. For example, the auction for “w.nyc” might lead to its serving as the home page for the W Hotel chain’s New York  properties or the radio station WNYC. While both are positive uses, the synergistic benefit to .nyc is slight, perhaps even negative.

The Beacon Project advocates that the names be auctioned or otherwise allocated as a block, and with a contractual requirement that they serve as predictable beacons, barometers, and indexes of the .nyc TLD. Let’s take a look what one of our 26 Beacons – a.nyc – might offer. Minimally, we imagine four helpful features:

  • An Alpha List – An enhanced index of all sites beginning with the character “a.”
  • The Gov Corner – A list of sites important to the the city’s health, education, and safety. For example, “a.nyc” would include ambulance.nyc.
  • # Trending – An up to the minute listing of the most accessed domain names beginning with “a”.
  • Peoples Choice – City residents will be able to vote for a favorite site within each of the 26 characters.

While we’ve identified 4 possible components, we’d suggest a community engagement and a hackathon to flesh out the idea. Keep in mind when evaluating Beacon that we’re talking about .nyc domain names only, a small bookshelf, not Google’s vastness.

So we see two choices:

We faced a decision with similar scope in the early 1800s when the time arrived to plan for the development of the northern sections of Manhattan. Through a Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, our ancestors plotted east-west streets and north-south avenues that guided New York’s orderly development, providing a grid system that facilitated transportation and property transfer. The Beacon Project follows in that spirit.

Let us know what you think. Perhaps you’d like to join us in sponsoring a hackathon or otherwise flesh out this idea.

And thanks again to Kw for her suggestion. With ideas like this she might more appropriately be named Mw.

(Commons graphic courtesy of pixabay.com.)

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