What’s Hot and Not On .nyc?

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url graphicNew York, October 2, 2015 – Would you like to know what .nyc websites are popular? The ones that are getting more popular? And less? Newbies?

One way to find out would be to have access to something called the .nyc DNS Data Log. It’s a list of all the URLs that are requested for sites using .nyc domain names. Every time a .nyc URL is sent to a machine called the Domain Name Server, a log entry is made. If we had access to this DNS Data Log we could find out things like what’s hot and not.

Today we submitted a proposal to the Knight Foundation for funds to explore this idea.  We think it’s worthwhile, but there are technical issues and privacy concerns, and some fresh eyes would be appreciated. It’s called Pulse: Making The Invisible Visible, see it here. (Commons graphic of URL courtesy of Wikipedia.)


On Becoming An NGO

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New York, September 10, 2015 – In early 2014 we submitted an application to the United Nations requesting that our organization be granted Special Consultative Status. A tad over a year later, on April 20, 2015, we received a message from the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations saying “your organization’s application for consultative status by the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations will take place during its 2015 Resumed Session in New York, scheduled for 26 May – 3 June 2015.”

UN Resumed Session May 2015The email went on to say “Your presence is not mandatory and will not in any way affect the consideration of your application” and that “given the large volume of new and deferred applications for the Committee’s consideration, it is not possible to determine the exact date at which your application will be reviewed during the session.”

Despite the indefinite review date, we thought that, being located in New York, I’d attend the meeting just in case I might be available to contribute to the review process. Minimally I’d get to spend a day at the UN which always inspires me.

But I could not attend for the full 7 day session and wrote the NGO Committee that I’d be there for the afternoon session on May 28. Everything worked out well on the 28th, and we’re now an NGO. But a friend thought the story of my experience on that day amusing and suggested I share it. Here goes.

At about noon on the 28th, as I was preparing to depart for the UN, an email arrived from the NGO Committee inquiring about the response we’d submitted to question 11, asking if Connecting.nyc Inc. was an international organization. I added some clarifying detail to my original response and headed out to the UN.

At the UN I found the Committee meeting in Conference Room 4, a very impressive room (pictured above). Near the entrance I found an official and explained my situation. She checked her computer and, noting that my response to question 11 had already made its way through the review process and was available for the members consideration. I asked if there was  anything further I could do to aide my application. She asked if I would be available for the Q&A beginning at 5 PM. Not clear what that was, but eager to please, I said sure. She concluded with “5 PM no earlier.”

There was another meeting nearby that interested me and I left Conference Room 4 for about 1/2 an hour. Returning a bit early, at 20 of 5, I took a seat at the rear. Seconds after settling into my seat the chair, speaking Spanish, said something that seemed to conclude with “Connecting.nyc”. Startled, I slowly stood, tried to imagine what he might have said, and listened intently a few seconds later when he repeated the statement and clearly said “Connecting.nyc” at the end.

Unclear as to what to do, I looked around for guidance. The woman at the entry desk motioned to say “Yes it is related to you” and urged me to move toward a desk closer to the front. As I approached that desk the fellow there waved me on, to continue toward the front. Looking ahead I saw another desk just to the right of the dais. But as I reached that desk the two occupants motioned me forward. With no desks ahead I stood motionless. Then a woman just behind the dais whispered that I was to “sit there” and motioned to the rightmost chair on the dais.

So within 30 seconds of hearing “Connecting.nyc” I found myself sitting on the dais. And wondering what was next.

Shortly the chair stated, in English, that I had 10 minuted to address the 19 members of the Committee. With nothing prepared I spoke for a few minutes about our general goals and about my response to question 11. I was then asked by the representative form Nicaragua how we expected to deliver our services to the member states. After answering the question I awaited another. The chair spoke in Spanish (“Any more questions?” I presumed.) With no response he motioned me to leave my seat.

As I turned to depart the woman who had directed me to sit on the dais said “Congratulations”. I must have looked perplexed, and she followed with “You’ve been approved.” And indeed, the Committee had recommended granting special consultative status to the organization. (Several weeks later Economic and Social Council formalized the approval.)

As I walked back to my seat in the rear two people stopped me to offer their congratulations and I began to realize what a remarkable few minutes I’d spent in Conference Room 4.

In July we received official confirmation of our acceptance as an NGO with special consultative status.


Interview on Face2Face

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tom on Face2Face - August 2015New York, August 31, 2015 – One of our directors, Tom Lowenhaupt, was recently interviewed on Face2Face. The interviewer, David Anderson, posed several questions to Mr. Lowenhaupt during the 10 minute interview recorded at MNN studios.

Of the questions posed, perhaps the most memorably answered was the last in which Mr. Lowenhaupt expressed the belief that Mayor de Blasio, upon seeing the interview, would initiate corrective action to ship-shape the .nyc effort. Other interview questions dealt with the history of the .nyc acquisition and development effort, and of Connecting.nyc Inc.’s program to share the lessons of the .nyc experience with the hundreds of cities that will soon apply for their TLDs.

Preceding the interview there’s a delightful guitar solo by Gabriella Callender. Both the interview and solo are available on YouTube here.


Mapping New York City’s Civic Commons

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Winston Churchill(Note: A later, and in some ways  improved, version of this post “City Must Use .NYC to Create a Real Civic Commons” was published by CityLimits on September 14th.)

New York, August 20, 2015 – Churchill nailed it in 1947 when he said “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others which have been tried from time to time.” For decades thereafter traditional Western Democracy was the tarnished global standard.

But with the Internet’s ascent people began to believe something better was possible. That belief fueled our advocacy for the .nyc TLD. Through it we imagined more open, transparent, and accountable governance processes, a post-Churchillian democracy where connected residents could more readily participate in decision making. One foundation for that was a civic commons.

[Background: The term commons refers to cultural and natural resources accessible to everyone, such as air, language, water, and a habitable earth. Commons are not owned by the private sector or government. With the activation of the .nyc TLD a new civic commons became possible, one formed around domain names such as issues.nyc and voting.nyc. More on this below.]

A lack of meaningful support for .nyc from City Hall diminished our expectations for our city’s TLD and for the civic commons. In recent months, we’ve been turning our attention elsewhere. But two recent reports highlighted the need for an improved civic commons and jerked our attention back to .nyc. The first was an article in Science reporting on research demonstrating how the Internet exerts a massive influence on voting and elections. The second, a New York Times article detailing the opacity of algorithms (invisible computer code that determines who sees what in searches), and how they sometimes result in the de facto placement of gender and racially biased ads.

After taking a fresh look at these and other challenges brought on by digitization, we decided to present this review of the role and advantages a robust digital commons would have on our city’s operation and quality of life. But first a look at those reports in Science and the Times.

Biased Algorithms

The Science article reported on work by Robert Epstein that conclusively demonstrated what most of us know intuitively: The higher a candidate’s rank on a page of Internet search results, the more likely voters are to choose them. Summarized his finding Epstein said: “What we’re talking about here is a means of mind control on a massive scale that there is no precedent for in human history.”

That’s a strong claim. Let’s take a look at his research.

In one experiment, Epstein, a research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research in Vista, California, and his associates recruited three groups of 102 volunteers. The researchers built a fake search engine they called Kadoodle that responded to search inquiries by returning a list of 30 websites, 15 for each of the candidates. What the volunteers didn’t know was that the search engine had been rigged to display biased results. For example, in one scenario a subject would see a list of 15 websites with information about one candidate followed by 15 similar results for the opponent. Predictably, the subjects spent far more time reading Web pages near the top of the list. Before and after questionnaires detailed the impact of the biased presentation: in one instance the rigged search results increased the number of undecided voters choosing the favored candidate by 48%.Mind control contraption with monitor and pipes

Interestingly, the subjects who noticed they were being manipulated were more likely to vote in line with the biased results. Of these voters Epstein says, “What they’re saying is, ‘Well yes, I see the bias and that’s telling me … the search engine is doing its job.’”

In a second experiment the scientists recruited 2,100 participants through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The large sample allowed them to pinpoint the demographics of those most vulnerable to search engine manipulation: the divorced, Republicans, and subjects who reported low familiarity with the candidates. From these results, Epstein concluded:

“In a two-person race, a candidate can only count on getting half of the uncommitted votes, which is worthless. With the help of biased search rankings, a candidate might be able to get 90% of the uncommitted votes [in select demographics].”

Other research by Epstein revealed that a search engine doesn’t have to intentionally manipulate for a biased effect to manifest. Search algorithms put one candidate’s name higher on the list based on factors like “relevance” and “credibility.” But the meaning and impact of these terms on displayed results are closely guarded by the developers at Google and other major search engines.

“It’s easy to point the finger at the algorithm because it’s this supposedly inert thing, but there are a lot of people behind the algorithm,” commented Nicholas Diakopoulos, an independent computer scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park. “I think that it does pose a threat to the legitimacy of the democracy that we have. We desperately need to have a public conversation about the role of these systems in the democratic processes.”

The New York Times article, When Algorithms Discriminate, talked about two forms of biased search algorithms that deter advancement by women into executive positions. In one instance job search sites offer more good jobs to men than to women. In another image searches for CEO’s exaggerate men’s occupancy in top positions.

Upon close examination it’s clear that some code is negatively influencing our fundamental rights and beliefs. In one instance decades of progress on expanding and enhancing the quality of the vote is being lost by the haphazard replacement of traditional candidate evaluation systems by new technology. In another, gender and racial equality are silently being eroded by invisible filters that insufficiently respect our cultural norms.

We need to be more vigilant about protecting our hard won standards for human and social rights. Luckily there’s a commons within the .nyc where these and other civic issues can be addressed.

The Civic Commons

commons cooperation  One of the empowering features of a city TLD is the new “space” it creates. It’s not as tangible as the land upon which housing and office space are created, but in a digital era it offers enormous opportunity. It’s time civil society identify and develop the commons space within the .nyc TLD. Here are a few examples of domain names that will support a civic commons:

  • Search.nyc – To address the voting issues discussed above we should craft the “search.nyc” domain name to provide fair returns on candidate searches. Designed with impartiality and transparency in mind, it can foster fair and trusted elections.
  • Voter.nyc – The voter.nyc name set (voter.nyc, voting.nyc, voters.nyc, candidates.nyc) is another part of the civic commons that should be crafted to facilitate elections and election time decisions.
  • Issues.nyc – Long and short term discussions of citywide import should be addressed in a thoughtfully organized issues.nyc space. Potential solutions identified here could feed into the voter.nyc name set.
  • Neighborhoods.nyc – A most useful set of commons spaces is being made available through the neighborhoods name set. Nearly 400 names have been reserved to empower local residents to address the concerns of everyday life. For the first time ever New Yorkers could have access to an effective local communication system.
  • Meta Names – Intuitive names that facilitate locating these sites need to be identified, developed, and promoted for example, CivicCommons.nyc, NewYorkCommons.nyc, and CommonsIndex.nyc.

Note: A robust commons advantages all sectors of society. For example, the “level playing field” created by search.nyc also provides advantages for city businesses and visitors.

Creating The Civic Commons

In creating our civic commons we can draw upon the success of commons in other realms such as fisheries and farm irrigation systems. And important lessons on governing a digital commons are available from the success of Wikipedia.

Nobel Prize winning economist Elinore Ostrom detailed four factors that define areas where commons can succeed, and with a city TLD meeting them all, we should confident as we approach the task. Those factors:

  • A definable boundary – This is certainly true of the intuitive domain names that comprise our commons. Each is a unique name within the well defined boundaries of the Internet’s domain name system.
  • Difficulty of substitution – One can easily create a BestSearch.nyc or ImportantIssues.nyc, but once claimed and coherently marketed as the city’s patrimony, it becomes clear that there is but one commons.
  • Presence of a community – While a big, great city, New York is but 1/10th of 1% of the world’s population living on a 450 square mile spec of planet Earth. Its residents have a common interest in assuring the social and economic betterment of their city.
  • A final condition is that there be appropriate community-based rules and procedures in place with built-in incentives for responsible use and punishments for misuse. Crafting these rules is a key challenge. But we’ve 400 years experience creating a city of laws and regulations, and with recent precedents from the likes of Wikipedia, the task should be doable.

The planning, design, funding, and oversight of the civic commons will best be achieved using a multi-stakeholder engagement model involving academia, business, civic society, government, residents, and the technical community. This outreach philosophy is having success in areas such as Internet governance, and combined with our traditional governance system, should facilitate a successful undertaking.

The Civic Commons 2There’s good news to start. The de Blasio Administration took some positive steps early on by setting aside some commons names on a reserved list. Nearly 400 neighborhood names – GreenwichVillage.nyc, Harlem.nyc, etc. – were on the list along with search.nyc and vote.nyc. Identification and acquisition of other names should take place early while the name price is low.

City officials are currently looking for a business and governance model to support the operation of the neighborhood names. The adventurous can go today to neighborhoods.nyc and begin the process of acquiring a neighborhood domain name. Working out the details of a governance model will perhaps be the most difficult task.

Beyond governance there are design and technical issues, exemplified perhaps by search.nyc. We’ve posted on that particular name on our Transparent Search wiki page.

Success with the commons requires strong support from City Hall. Empowering city residents was a campaign theme of the de Blasio Administration so one might expect strong support for a stakeholder controlled civic commons. Tasks for City Hall include:

  • Advertise / Market / Outreach / Promote  – Getting the word out in New York City is an enormously expensive proposition. City Hall must promote the commons with the same vigor and persistence used for 911, 311, and nyc.gov. As an initial sign of support it should commit to moving the city’s website from nyc.gov to gov.nyc.
  • Convene – All stakeholders should be invited into the planning processes. A supportive organizational structure and staff should empower meaningful participation. A versatile civic entity such as the Municipal Art Society or perhaps the reborn City Club should have a role here.
  • Autonomy – City Hall must not micromanage the commons. While contracts controlling .nyc’s operation place ultimate authority in city hall, the stakeholder communities that oversee the various spaces (domain names) must have rule making and management authority – within our system of laws.
  • Funding – The sale of domain name is generating a surplus. These funds should be sufficient to support the development of the commons and should be channeled to a Commons Development Authority to facilitate implementation. Should additional funds be necessary, the Authority should be empowered to facilitate their acquisition.
  • Finally – .london, .paris, .tokyo and 30 other cities have been similarly empowered to create their own civic commons. But for lack of precedent and awareness they may miss the opportunity. Mayor de Blasio should collaborate with other global cities to develop governance processes and share best practices for their civic commons.

Read more:

  • Robert Epstein’s experiments in Science are available here.
  • See this Times article on gender and racially biased algorithms.
  • See our Transparent Search wiki page for starting points on building a city-friendly search engine.


Our thanks for the use of their Creative Commons images to KraljAleksandar for Churchill, Jagarnot for Syndicated Mind Control, Victor Ponce for Tragedy, and Christine Prefontaine for What…



.London Premium Domain Name Auctions Start

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London Evening Standard LogoNew York, July 15, 2015 – While New York City officials consider ways to issue the city-shaping and valuable Premium Domain Names – hotels.nyc, sports.nyc, news.nyc – London has settled on a plan for allocating its Premium Names. According to a story in today’s London Evening Standard:

Fifty of the most prized “dot London” website domain names are being auctioned from today to raise tens of thousands of pounds for the Standard’s charitable Dispossessed Fund.

Generic names such as cars.london, cinema.london, coffee.london, food.london and shoes.london were open to bids at noon at the domainauctions.london online sales room.

It is the latest phase of the roll-out of the new dot London website addresses with 64,000 already registered since launch in April 2014.

Up to a quarter of the proceeds from the auction, which closes at midday on July 30, will go to charities supported by the Dispossessed Fund subject to a cap of £50,000.

How much might the auction raise overall? Take a look at the early results here. With two weeks to go before this first auction concludes, rooms.london has a bid of £5,100 (about $8,000), with west.london in second place with a £2,501. So it would seem the Standard’s Disposessed Fund will max out with a £50,000 contribution.

The article mentions nothing about public interest commitments so our guess is that there are none, and that the Disposessed Fund is a fig leaf for the public interest.

Here in New York we’ve recommended that important Premium Names have public interest commitments attached. (Note: The city has set aside 3,069 names for consideration as premium names, some of which have little baring on the civic good such as 777.nyc and zero.nyc. We support auctioning these names.)

Public Interest Commitments will vary, perhaps requiring that hotels.nyc fairly present all the city’s hotels and that news.nyc and sports.nyc be based on local content. The New York Internet Society and Connecting.nyc Inc. organized a panel last December that suggested a PIC Oversight Board to delve into the intricacies of the allocation process.

Premium Names are a cornerstone of a successful city-TLD design plan. London seems to have taken its lead from General Motors’ chief Charles Erwin Wilson, saying (excuse our paraphrase) “What’s good for domain name sales is good for our city”. We await Mayor de Blasio’s plan.


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