Digital.nyc – A Status Report

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Jackson Hts., New York, February 24, 2015 – We’re a 1/2 candle into the life of our city’s TLD and an appropriate time for an evaluation. But with .nyc’s success metrics undefined, an assessment is challenging. Hoping that we might contribute to a long term analytical framework, we decided to undertake this first review.

Fundamentally, there are two competing perspectives on a TLD’s success, the standard and community. The metric used for assessing standard TLDs such as .com, .net, and .org is based on the number of names sold. We honor that tradition by presenting a statistical review.

For community TLDs, the “societal” approach we’ve advocated, success comprises a positive impact on the delivery of city services, economic enhancement, and an improved quality of life. We took a first stroke at identifying community metrics on our wiki some time ago. With community enhancements emerging from long term development efforts, an assessment at this early stage is challenging. What we do here is look at some early actions and how they might influence those long term goals.

Traditional Metrics

Let’s start with some stats on the number of .nyc domain names sold.

  • As of February 22, the city’s contractor reported 72,103 names sold with sales at a rate of about 90 registrations per day. (See more current stats here.)
  • Of those, 74.27% or 52,672 were “parked.” A parked domain is one purchased but without any meaningful content (see keys.nyc for an example). Names purchased for speculative purposes might be parked. And with .nyc being a new TLD, many are surely parked while under development.
  • That 74% of parked domains has been inching down over the months. For comparison .berlin has 73% parked, .london 36%, .paris 48%, and .tokyo 55%. (Might we induce a level of speculative purchases from these?)
  • Doing some subtraction (72,103 – 52,672) one might conclude that 19,431 .nyc domain names are providing some level of content. But…
  • A February 21 Google search using the “Site:.nyc” command revealed only 458 websites. (Google reported a total of 940 finds, a number consisting of both primary names and their duplicates.) We’re looking for an explanation for this discrepancy.
  • We linked into the first 100 of those 458 “Site:.nyc” citations and found 40% used the .nyc domain name to present content. The other 60% merely linked to a .com or .org site.

In addition to these 72,103 sold names, 21,000 names have been created but not allocated. The unallocated fall into three categories.

  • 800 Reserved Names – Names set aside to serve the public’s benefit. Three fourths of these names are those of neighborhoods or Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), e.g., see 125thstreet.nyc. Included also are some generic and category names, e.g., taxi.nyc, tours.nyc, and digital.nyc, about which we have more to say below.
  • 3,092 Premium Names – These names were set aside for distribution through high-bid auctions, scheduled to begin in early 2015. We’ve advocated for attaching Public Interest Commitments (PICs) to many of these names, believing social and economic equity and a stronger TLD will result. A recent  panel report detailed these recommendations.
  • 17,000 Collision Names – The “Collision” names were excluded from allocation pending a review of their impact on the operation of existing networks. Mayor.nyc and our own connecting.nyc are two of the good names stuck in this batch. The vast majority of collision names are of little consequence, but all are expected to become available in mid 2015.

While we have some statistics to guide our Traditional Metrics evaluation, doing so for the Community-TLD perspective is a bit more challenging.

The Community View

Early in 2014 Mayor de Blasio announced that it had reserved nearly 400 neighborhood names for development by entities representing the public interest. And it created a path for their allocation – see neighborhoods.nyc. We tested the proposed allocation process recently by encouraging local civic entities to apply for the JacksonHeights.nyc name. We chose Jackson Heights because it represented the home team – we’re based there – and the neighborhood has a young entrepreneurial population engaged with tech.

The response was lukewarm at best. Only one organization indicated it might take on the site’s development. And that commitment was on an “as time allows” basis. Also, no existing organization matched the proposed governance standard.

We concluded that if a suitable application was to be filed for JacksonHeights.nyc, it would best be submitted by a new entity, one having the website as its primary mission. And we concluded that the neighborhood names might best be issued to contracted parties, committed to the principles set out on neighborhoods.nyc, with periodic reviews to establish compliance. A scenario of this sort would require an investment for start up and oversight.

The adoption of a resident-focused nexus policy was another positive action by de Blasio. Properly administered and enforced nexus can foster a range of benefits from civic pride to security and economic development. Our review of registrations revealed some questionable registrant addresses and we look forward to the initiation of planned random audits and for a public reporting of results.

A  key sign of community success will arrive when .nyc names are being used to create new civic and business connections. Over the last several months we’ve sought to understand who is registering the domain names. Are names being registered to make new connections and new markets? Are New Yorkers shifting their registrations to .nyc from .com, .net, .org and other foreign TLDs? While we await a sophisticated analysis, an associate has reviewed the daily log of new registrants. The dominant impression is that registrations are largely for generic names, as opposed to those of existing businesses. Looked at in concert with the high rate of parked names, this might indicate a multitude of speculative purchases. But one might see a positive side to this: the names of existing businesses are apparently not being squatted upon and remain available.

Community Opportunities

One of the key benefits we foresaw for New Yorkers and visitors alike was the arrival of an intuitive Internet where our everyday language would be our guide. Using the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 as inspiration, we advanced the model of viewing .nyc as a digital grid where ease-of-use and clarity would result from the thoughtful allocation of names – bikes.nyc, bakeries.nyc, drugstores.nyc, schools.nyc, etc. But the city opted for the speed and simplicity of a Land Rush distribution process (first-come first-served), which released thousands of intuitive names for unknown uses. The results are trickling in.

Today, New Yorkers typing hardwarestores.nyc will be presented with the services offered by a single locksmith, not an organized presentation of the desired stores. They’ll need to sift through Google’s global results to locate their local hardware store. The local hardware store will need to pay Google if it hopes to be found there. And a job will not be created for the local operator of hardwarestores.nyc. It’s a lose-lose-lose situation for New York.

But there’s still an opportunity to foster an intuitive .nyc, where the common language holds its traditional meaning. Within the 21,000 unallocated Reserved, Premium, and Collision names the city can identify widely understood names – words might be a better descriptive – and require Public Interest Commitments (see our recommendations) by the developers of these domain names.

If .nyc is to gain a reputation as a reliable and useful TLD – where people are confident that typing a domain name will deliver the desired result – names like pizza.nyc and hotels.nyc can’t simply market traditional brands. That is, pizza.nyc can’t lead to Pizza Hut and hotels.nyc can’t provide the choice of all the city’s Hilton Hotels. These are likely outcomes if a high bid auction determines development rights.

For .nyc is to serve as a mental grid these domain names need to aide residents and visitors alike in learning about the history, variety, and depth of our pizza and hospitality industries. This can only be achieved via contractual Public Interest Commitments.

Additionally, Mayor de Blasio should select a few of the unallocated names and provide incentives so those on the other side of the digital divide have the opportunity to apply their entrepreneurial talents to developing the .nyc TLD.

Concerns

Since 2009, when the city announced its intent to acquire .nyc, there have been few meaningful opportunities for public engagement in .nyc’s planning and oversight process. Access was virtually nonexistent during the Bloomberg years. Initially the de Blasio Administration was more receptive to public engagement, indeed, during 2014 a .NYC Community Advisory Board met on a monthly basis, with two from our organization appointed as members. However, when that Board ceased operating in December, public access to the oversight process ceased.

The importance of governance and access was brought to mind recently when we received an invitation to attend a Digital.nyc Five Borough Tour. Curious about the event and its genesis we visited the digital.nyc website where the sponsors were described:

Digital.NYC is the official online hub of the New York City startup and technology ecosystem, bringing together every company, startup, investor, event, job, class, blog, video, workspace, accelerator, incubator, resource and organization in the five boroughs. It is the result of a unique public/private partnership between the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, IBM, Gust, and over a dozen leading NYC-based technology and media companies.

Curious, we reviewed the Reserved Names and found digital.nyc listed. Not having been privy to this development while on the Advisory Board, we wondered about the process by which they had obtained the domain name. With this in mind we recalled a recent conversation with an official who predicting that fashion.nyc would be developed in a similar manner to digital.nyc. Some research revealed fashion.nyc to be on the Premium Names list and as having been registered to Neustar, the contractor overseeing .nyc’s marketing and operation, last week.

Without transparency and a governance process, people may begin to think the city’s TLD is being operated out of cigar box, or worse. And with public trust central to its becoming a grid for our digital resources, such perceptions can be highly detrimental.

City Hall needs to add transparency and accountability to the operation of the .nyc TLD. And it needs a representative and accessible governance process that informs the public about how allocation decisions are made, for what purpose, and by whom. And we need a process and timetable for evaluating these allocations of the public’s resources.

Soap Box: Our view is that a thoughtfully developed TLD provides the infrastructure for a secure local Internet. That upon that base one can build privacy, identity, and community. And that these will enable economic growth and speed the creation of a more prosperous and livable city.

A Hollywood Ending

This review turned out to be far longer than we anticipated. Those who’ve stuck with it to the end get a treat. Enjoy these sites we came across while researching this paper.

  • Archives.nyc – This site shows city information presented in an esthetically pleasing manner. Congratulations to the Municipal Archives.
  • MurdersIn.nyc – If we were giving awards this one would get the Bagel for creative use of a .nyc domain name.
  • Greenestreet.nyc – A wonderful presentation of the 400 year history of one small section of a city street. But we do have some qualms about ownership of this resource as detailed here.
  • Straphangers.nyc – We love this organization and as one might expect its an early occupant of the .nyc domain.
  • Visualizing.nyc – Be patient while this one loads. For map lovers.
  • Mammamia.nyc – Broadway’s first play to make it to the big time.
  • Prty.nyc – Dancing like you’ve never seen it before.

If you come across a worthy .nyc site, let us  know, and we’ll connect other New Yorkers.

(Commons image courtesy of Melissa.)

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2015 – The Year of the dotNeighborhoods

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neighborhoodJackson Hts., New York, January 18, 2015 – One of the unheralded achievements of the de Blasio administration’s first year was saving the neighborhood domain names – Astoria.nyc, Bensonhurst.nyc, Chelsea.nyc, etc. from the auction block. Under Bloomberg, these historic names were slotted to be sold off during the Landrush period to whoever had the biggest bank account. But under the guidance of Mayor de Blasio’s Sr. Adviser Jeff Merritt, the names were reserved:

The City of New York has reserved roughly 400 neighborhood names for use by community groups to develop new online hubs for civic engagement, online organizing and information-sharing. Neighborhood names will be available beginning in Fall 2014 and will be licensed to community groups through a competitive application process.

In order to be eligible for a .nyc neighborhood name, the lead organization must meet the following minimum qualifications: (a) registered as a not-for-profit, public benefit corporation or local development corporation, and (b) located within the neighborhood for which a .nyc domain name is sought.

Neighborhoods have been a long-time focus of ours. (See our dotNeighborhood wiki pages.) We’ve imagined vast unrealized social and civic potential, hamstrung by inadequate communication. Our most noticeable involvements with them was a collaboration with the New York Internet Society and Wikimedia-NY that explored the potential of neighborhood wikis. (See NYCwiki.org). So we were delighted by this development.

Over the next year a considerable part of our efforts will focus on making the most of these dotNeighborhoods. We hope to plan a pilot project with the following components:

  • Organizing – Write an on the ground plan for ways to engage local residents and organizations to support the venture. This will include ways to determine local training needs and integration with existing entities – digital and traditional.
  • Technology – Create a system with five components:
    • Centrally gathered neighborhood data: demographics, maps, economic info, government programs and grant information. Here we will look to collaborate with the city administration and entities such as Beta-NY.
    • A host system that includes a wiki component enabling everyone to record and publish a neighborhood’s memory. (For example, see Davis Wiki.)
    • Features that support discussion, decision making, and organizing.
    • An app for engagement while roaming the streets, with 311, service reviews, and peer connections.
    • A business model.
  • Best Practices – Establish a process for sharing ideas with other neighborhoods.

We invite the many who’ve indicated supported for our dotNeighborhoods initiative to limber up their minds and/or fingers and get ready for a most exciting year. Those who do not receive our dotNeighborhood notices should sign-up using the form at the lower left below.

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Report: Public Interest Commitments & Premium .nyc Domain Names

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Jackson Hts., New York, January 3, 2014 – The New York Internet Society and Connecting.nyc Inc. convened a panel on December 18 to explore the prospect and impact of requiring Public Interest Commitments (PICs) for some of the unallocated .nyc domain names – names such as news.nyc, sports.nyc, and hotels.nyc.

Internet thought leader Avri Doria kicked off the panel with a most informative and reflective history on the origin of ICANN’s new TLD program and the evolving role of PICs. She expressed a mixed viewpoint on the role of PICs, but was dubious about domain names being considered “magic words” – leaning toward the “there’s always a viable alternative” viewpoint.

Avri was followed by Thomas Lowenhaupt, founding director of Connecting.nyc Inc., who suggested that 21,000 unallocated .nyc domain names be mined for those that might be shaped to benefit the public interest; and that those names have PICs attached to their development rights. To achieve this goal he suggested city hall establish a PIC Oversight Board to facilitate the identification and development of names that might benefit the public interest.

  • The Board should create guidelines for identifying public interest names and administer a process for their selection. That process should maximize opportunities for public engagement.
  • The Board should identify PIC features that might aide the development of markets and quality of life: maps, searchable alpha and geographic listings, public rankings, comments, reviews, etc. Names should be assigned appropriate PICs.
  • The Board should devise policies that maximize opportunities for the creative development of public interest names. These policies should enable for a broad spectrum of society to avail themselves of the opportunities provides by this new resource (not just current market leaders). These might include innovation credits, subsidies, stretched payment schedules, and other incentives.
  • The Board should advise on suitable means of distributing PIC names: high-bid auction, request for proposals, or other processes.
  • On an ongoing basis the Board should monitor the efficacy of the PIC program.

Finally, Gabriel Levitt, commenting on the .pharmacy TLD, provided insight into the role domain names can play in shaping a market and the public’s interest. Timothy McGinnis provided additional commentary on that topic. A full report on the presentations, a Q&A, and links to panelist videos and slides can be found on the meeting report page.

[Subsequent to the panel, member Thomas Lowenhaupt realized that he’d neglected to mention an important policy consideration relating to premium names and PICs – equity. His concern is that with high-bid auctions the sole criteria determining premium name allocation, new New Yorkers with new visions will find it difficult to participate in the .nyc marketplace. He requested that equity be noted here for inclusion in the ongoing conversation.]

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A Governance Model For the .nyc TLD

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of by for the people

Jackson Hts., New York, December 3, 2014 – The existing term of the members of the mayor’s .NYC Community Advisory Board expires on December 31. What’s next?

At a recent New York meeting before key participants in the city’s Internet industry, ICANN’s CEO Fadi Chehade suggested that CGI.br, the Brazilian governance body overseeing the .br TLD, might provide a good lesson for cities looking at governance models. For background on CGI.br we put this page together. Additionally, our wiki has several background pages on the Internet Governance Ecology.

To address the issue, a December 17 meeting of the .NYC Community Advisory Board has been scheduled. The preliminary call set the following parameters:

We would like to propose a facilitated discussion on best practices in internet governance. The hope is that this discussion will provide us with a clear set of priorities and goals for 2015, thereby allowing us to set a specific course of action for the coming year.

 Sounds like the right move.

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Fadi’s Chehade’s Advice for “The Reference City”

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ICANN's Fadi Chehade at NYC's Municipal Building November 24, 2014Jackson Hts., New York, November 27, 2014  – ICANN’s CEO Fadi Chehade met Monday with a group of New Yorkers from city government, civil society, and business in the offices of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

After introductions and an update on .nyc’s status, Fadi told the attendees that in his travels he is often asked by mayors “What is New York doing about .nyc?” To the mayors, he noted, “New York is the reference city.”

(The inside joke is that most new things are tried and tested elsewhere and then adopted in New York. But they receive their first wide publicity only after the city’s mass of media gives notice. The city’s pols sometimes shine their innovator credentials with new developments and feed the originality myth. In this instance however, the idea of a city-TLD did originate here. And now, as Fadi said, the whole world is watching.)

So how do we make .nyc a positive reference for the hundreds of cities that will be be acquiring their TLDs over the next few years? Fadi was very interested in the city’s nexus policy and suggested it fit with one of the unique development’s he’s seen for new TLDs – authentication. As an example he noted that the Catholic Church has a 10 year plan to replace its centuries old Red Book, the current authoritative listing of Catholic organizations, with the .catholic TLD. Message #1, make nexus work and build upon it.

Fadi also encouraged the city to find a good model for public participation in our TLD’s governance. He pointed to the success Brazil has experienced with its “multistakeholder” governance structure for the .br TLD. Most interesting, the governance entity has 21 members with the government appointing 9 – a minority. Fadi, turning to the government officials present suggested that “ceding a little bit of the city’s power creates a community which is very powerful.” As a resident it seems a gamble worth taking. But government loosening its grip on power is indeed a rare event. More on the .br oversight by CGI.br can be found here.

For the meeting’s full recording which, in addition to the above, touched on global Internet governance issues, see here. Commons Graphic shows Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade.

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